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COLD READING TIPS from Acting in London

Cold reading is about two things only: confidence and the ability to pick up lines quickly. Both of these skills you can learn by yourself at home.

There’s no secret weapon that will allow you to suddenly become good at doing a cold read audition, and the only way to get better is to do more of them. However, there are a few things that can help actors improve their cold reading skills, and I’ll list those below.

When do you really need good cold reading skills?

There is a small number of instances when being good at cold readings can save your bum and win you that audition. Here are the examples of such cases:

  • Casting directors workshops – they want to see you be good at cold reads in case the CD calls you in on a moment’s notice.
  • Unexpected auditions – when you come in to audition for a role but they decided they want you for a different part you didn’t prepare for.
  • A lot of student and some low-budget indie film auditions like to do that, mainly because they’re not well organized.
  • Last minute rewrites – you arrive at your audition and receive completely different sides from what you have initially expected.
  • Missing students/cast members – when working on a scene either in class or in rehearsals, you may need to fill in for somebody.

These five cases alone explain why cold reading acting classes usually make quite a bit of money, but again, you don’t really have to take those classes because all of this stems from one place.

It’s definitely worth mastering the “technique” of doing a perfect cold read as you never know when it might not only keep you from an embarrassing read, but also get you the part. Here are the tips on how to be good at cold readings.

How to Be Amazing at Cold Readings and Nail Your Audition

Usually, you will be given at least 15 minutes to prepare for your cold read audition.

The way it goes is usually like this: you arrive at the location, sign your name on the sheet and someone is going to give you sides to prepare, and the approximate time of when they’re going to call you. You cannot leave the room/area. This is the time to become really focused and use these 15 minutes efficiently.

Here’s how to do this:

#1: Do not start by trying to memorize your lines right away. Cold reading is often stressful for a lot of actors due to uncertainty and haste, but you must try to avoid focusing on memorization alone. Let me repeat that again – do NOT focus on memorization of lines alone. First, calm down and focus.

#2: Read closely through the whole thing. And I mean the WHOLE thing, without trying to “act out” anything. Just read the sides fully. They’re rarely long, so it should be a quick read. Then take another few moments to go through the sides again and understand what the scene is about and where your character is coming from (the usual stuff).

#3: Break down the script as much as you can. Now it’s time to do some script analysis and character breakdown. Again, do not rush and try to keep your focus. Even though there won’t be too much time to do a thorough job, here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself and be aware of when analyzing your sides:

– What happened the moment before the scene?
– What is your relationship to the other character?
– What is the point of this scene in the script?
– What is the environment you are in?
– What is at stake in the scene?
– What does your character’s “want” in this scene?
– Other important facts from the script that instantly come to you.

#4: Concentrate on listening. When your time is finally up and you go into the room to begin your scene, avoid trying to remember your lines. Do not focus on the fact that you may have forgotten them. You’ve already done whatever you could, and there’s nothing else you can do. Instead, bring your full concentration onto your partner and really listen.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about how to do a cold read properly. Now here are some additional tips to make you feel more confident during the process.

When you’re doing the cold read audition, always use your thumb, or however you hold your sides, to keep track of where your dialogue is. You will definitely forget the lines if you have more than a few (which is why you shouldn’t worry about it), so try to help yourself to quickly find where you left off.

If you have multiple pages of the script, use an index finger under the page you’re currently reading from so that you’re ready to switch the page when you’re done with the current one.

Also, do not drop the sides. Keep your sides horizontally in front of you at the waist/chest level. You need to be able to look up the line as quickly as you can.

The golden rule of cold reading

This rule is a MUST if you want for your cold read audition to succeed, so make sure to follow it.

When a reader is addressing you, or is reading his/her lines at you, you must always keep your eyes on them. You may lower your eyes and look at your sides only when it’s your turn to talk.

Period. This is very important. When it’s the reader’s turn to feed you the dialogue, keep your focus on them. You’re listening intently, remember?

And yes, that does mean you’ll have to spare a few moments to look up your next line (if you don’t know it) AFTER the reader is finished. That’s fine. As long as you listen and react, that’s your key to a successful cold read.

How to practice cold reading at home?

There are two good ways that actors can practice their cold reading skills (or sight reading skills, whichever one you prefer) when there’s no partner available to them. This can be done at home, and I recommend that you do practice this now and again until you’ve done plenty of cold reads to the point where you’re very comfortable and confident.

a) Read out loud a lot. This one is my favorite and the easiest one to include in your daily routine. It accomplishes part of the practice and is necessary not just for cold reads, but auditioning in general. Whenever you relax with a book (and you do read, right?) just try reading it out loud, at least for 30 minutes.

b) Record yourself. Same thing – only instead of a book, try newspapers and magazines with longer and more complicated sentences. Usually, business magazines work great for this sort of thing (and do read the advertisements in there as well). So grab that magazine, and follow the steps below:

  1. Prepare your DSLR camera/smartphone on your tripod for self-taping;
  2. Grab that text you have prepared (but didn’t learn in advance);
  3. Hold the sides in one hand high enough to see the material without moving your head;
  4. Avoid holding the script too high (face hidden) or too low (need to look down);
  5. Look at the script, “take it in” and remember the words that you instantly picked up;
  6. Look up into the lens and say the words you have picked up;
  7. Again: look at the script, grab a few words, look up at the camera, say them;
  8. Repeat, repeat, repeat;
  9. Watch the video and revise. See what you did wrong and fix it.

The point is to learn how to take in all the script and grab the necessary words as quickly as you can. The more you practice, the more words you’ll be able to grab in the same amount of time. It’s not easy at first, but you get used to it eventually. Practicing with a partner would be a good idea too.