Thanks Ethan for your request of some tips on cold reading. I hope this helps you and everybody else!
ONE: TRAIN FOR IT
More and more auditions involve cold readings of monologues or dialogues.
It’s something you’re going to spend a lot of time doing. For that reason, you need to prepare for it. But what preparation can you do? You can cold read a ton of things at home, pick up anything and practice cold reading it: the tv guide, a novel, a play, the bible, it doesn’t matter, just practice picking up things and reading them out loud.
TWO: SLOW DOWN
People tend to garble when they’re nervous. They speak really really fast and it damages their audition because no one can understand them. Whilst the panel will expect you to be nervous, speaking too quickly will kill your articulation.
THREE: RAPID ANALYSIS
Make an analysis of the scene as quickly as you can. What does the character want the other character to do as a result of hearing your words? If you can answer even this question, you will give yourself a tone for the scene based on context. If you have time to work out an Essential Action for your character in the scene, such as ‘To bring someone down a peg or two’ or ‘To get someone to crown me Queen’, or ‘To get what I deserve’ – you’ll have something strong to act in your scene, not just the words.
FOUR: WARM UP
If you can, do a quick warm up before you start (obviously not in view of the panel). So before they bring you in, have a good stretch, do some spinal rolls, have a few good deep breaths through your mouth to slow down your heart beat and make yourself more comfortable. Warm your mouth up with a couple of tongue twisters to prevent yourself from getting tongue-tied in the audition.
FIVE: LEARN TO READ SENTENCES NOT WORDS
One of the keys to cold reading is the ability to take in a sentence at a glance, and then whilst acting that line to scan ahead to see the next line. This is not easy, so practice it as part of your regular cold reading practice. Speak one line, scan ahead to the next.
SIX: LINE LEARNING?
I’ve heard some people advise cold readers to try to learn the script quickly. NONSENSE. You’re going to end up confused, stuck half in memory, half trying to act in the moment. Don’t even think about it – unless they give you a couple of hours!
Spend the time that you have with the script reading it over and over, don’t work out how you’re going to say the lines, just read it over and over until you’re comfortable with it. Until you just have a feel for it and the words are easy with you. This will help you live in the moment when the audition comes.
If you know what show they are doing, read the play in advance. Most scripts are available through Amazon, Alibris or the Drama Bookshop in New York. While they might not have you read from the script, you will be prepared if they do!
NINE: PLEASANT IN AND OUT
Walk in with a big natural smile, and say hello if they are looking at you. Again, when they’re done with you, regardless of how you felt you’ve done, just give a big lovely smile and say ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you very much’. Being lovely is something to cultivate – there are too many prima donnas still.
TEN: LISTEN VERY CAREFULLY
You’re going to be nervous and cold reading auditions are fairly fraught experiences. So remember to listen carefully to any instructions that you get before or during the audition. Listen to the director carefully and speak clearly yourself.
Mark Westbrook is a professional acting coach based in Glasgow.