by Joshua Siegel
Some tips for cold reading in an audition.
In theater, an actor will often have a prepared monologue which he performs at every audition. He has spent many hours memorizing all the lines and perfecting his performance and is quite comfortable in the role. However, in a film or commercial audition, the actor is expected to perform from the script given to him... sometimes with almost no time for preparation. That's when cold reading comes in handy.
Cold reading is the art of auditioning with script in hand. Although script sides are supposed to be given to an actor at least 24 hours before the audition, sometimes you won't even see a script until you walk into the audition. This is why cold reading is such an important skill for actors wanting to work in commercials, film, and television.
Learning to Cold Read
Pick up a sample script, or use a newspaper or magazine if you don't have a script. Look at the first line, quickly committing it to memory. Then look up and say the line aloud. Congratulations, you've just done your first cold reading!
When auditioning, it's very tempting to sneak a look at your next line while the other character is speaking. Resist this temptation. How you listen to the other character is just as important as how you speak your own lines. Wait until it's time for your character to respond, then look to your script for the next line. Memorize as much as you can in a couple seconds, then make eye contact again and say your line in character.
If you have more dialogue than you can memorize in one glance, go ahead and repeat the process. Just keep your face out of the script! Never say your lines while looking at the script. You are acting out the scene like any other audition, only you are taking short pauses to read your lines. So be sure to stay in character even while you're reading your next line.
Cold Reading in an Audition
Even if you don't get your script sides until the moment before you're supposed to audition, try to take the time to read the script entirely through at least once. This way, you'll at least know what the scene is about, who the characters are, and which way the conversation will go. Don't attempt to memorize all the lines, just get a general overview of the scene.
If you have more time with the script, it might be a good idea to memorize your first and last lines. That way you will enter the scene already immersed in the character and leave the same way. With cold reading auditions, the personality of the character is more important than the lines.
Some Tips on Holding the Script
While how you hold the script during a cold reading isn't nearly important as how you portray the character, it can have an effect on how you read the lines and how the Casting Director sees you.
The best way I've found to hold the script is in your off hand (left if you're right handed and vice-versa) at about chest level. If it's too high you'll be hiding your face and if it's too low you'll constantly have to bring it up in order to read it. And because it's in your off hand, you're free to gesture and point as you normally would.
Try to avoid waving the script around or using it as a prop. You don't have to pretend it doesn't exist, just try to think of it as a natural extension of your body. The less attention you draw to the fact you have a script in your hand, the better.
A cold reading audition naturally goes much slower and feels more awkward than a normal scene. Don't worry about it. The Casting Director doesn't expect you to know the lines... she just wants to see what kind of personality you bring to the character.
You may be the greatest actor in the world, but without at least some proficiency in the art of cold reading, you'll never get past your first film audition. So include it in your training and you'll be able to improve your auditions and start booking jobs in no time!