For an actor, “cold reading” is the scariest phrase one could ever hear. Cold reading is when an actor is asked to read from the script at an audition, with no practice, rehearsal, or study in advance. Usually, the actor is asked to read for a particular character, and has never even seen the script before. It is very easy to mispronounce words, or loose your place, and it is difficult to develop a character right on the spot like that. Hopefully, if you are asked to cold read, you have done your homework and researched the play and the characters. That way, you at least know what is generally happening in the scene or the lines you are reading.
Despite the extreme stress that cold reading causes actors, being asked to participate in a cold read is actually a very good sign because it means that the director is seriously considering that actor for the character. It is an excellent sign if you are asked to cold read multiple times. Usually, if that happens, you can at least expect a callback if not the role, though I cannot speak for all directors, since everyone runs their auditions a little differently.
Follow these helpful tips that will make you a master at cold reading:
- Research the play and the characters you are auditioning for before the audition. Use “StageAgent” to help you. Just type in the play you are auditioning for, using the search bar.
- Listen more than you think! Especially if you are reading with another actor. It is more important to react to what the other character is saying than to get caught up in acting like your own character. After all, acting is reacting! Acting is just the reproduction of human behavior. So, think about how you would react in the situation. Then you will find a more natural way to relate to your character during the cold read.
- When another character is speaking, follow along the page with your thumb, so that you do not loose your place when it is your time to speak again.
- If you do not know how to pronounce a word, skip over it, or give it a go, and the director may correct you, which is okay. Do NOT break character and stop to ask the director how to pronounce the word.
Eric Jones studied theatre in college at the University of Maryland College Park, and still works in the professional theatre world at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre and the Old Opera House Theatre Company. He has participated in many professional community theatre productions, and has played lead roles in both musicals and straight plays. He has been acting for a while, and is an expert on cold reading and auditioning at this point.
“I love cold reads because they give you a chance to explore the material and play with the energy of it without bias or preconceptions. You let the text speak to you, and you get to showcase your instincts for interpretation. I vastly prefer cold reads to prepared monologues,” Jones said.
In a cold read it is easy to loose your place, or mispronounce words. Jones says that when you mess up in a cold read, you cannot break character.
“Stay in character and go with it. Everything you do should be a conscious decision, and your ability to power through a mistake can sometimes mean the difference between getting cast and not,” Jones said.
Jones talks about everything that helps him nail a cold read.
“Depending on how many times you get to read the same side, make bold and varied choices. Think about how you see the character and their desires, then use that to make the role yours. If there’s a particular line or moment that you notice everyone doing the same way, make a different choice with it. See if you can find something in it that no one else seems to be able to find. You don’t want to be just another person reading lines off a page. Do your best not to hide behind the side. Make eye contact with your scene partner and deliver as many lines as you can without looking at the script,” Jones said
When Jones auditioned for the role of Ian in “Rooms: A Rock Romance,” he was competing with two other guys who were great singers and actors.
“We had to improvise a Glaswegian accent and cold sing some rather difficult music. For the cold read, we all had to read a short monologue in which Ian is on the phone with his mom. I remember making a conscious choice to pause and react to the mom’s “lines” so that it would sound like a real conversation as opposed to a monologue. The director later told me that the reading was what stood out and won me the role,” Jones said.