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Warming Up Your Cold Reading Skills

PART ONE--By Patrick Rainville Dorn

            One of the most important and least developed audition skills is cold reading.

            A diligent actor will practice a monologue or an audition song over and over, out loud and in front of others, recognizing how important it is to appear relaxed and polished. But how do you prepare for those auditions where the director wants you to read a scene from the script?

            You begin by practicing the skills of cold reading. When you are proficient at it, you can pick up any script at a moment’s notice, stand onstage with complete strangers, read confidently and meaningfully, bring out the best in your fellow actors, and actually entertain the director you are trying to impress.

            Most people haven’t read out loud since they were very young. That’s too bad, because most stories, and all plays, were really meant to be spoken. The words don’t come to life inside your head nearly so effectively as when you speak them out into the world. But due to lack of practice, even avid readers sound uncertain, flat or immature when they pick up a text and read it out loud.

            You’ve got some catching up to do! I used to play a game with my friends. I had a large bookcase, with everything from Dr. Seuss to Dante on the shelves. We’d each grab a book at random, and take turns reading to each other, standing on our feet, and “acting” it out. I’d toss out a paragraph from “Tom Sawyer” as if I were speaking to my friend. My friend would respond with lines from Edgar Allen Poe, and so on. Sometimes we’d open up the phone book and read it with all the intonation and emotion of a love poem!

            This was a lot of fun, and it didn’t matter that what we said was incongruous at best, and often downright silly. But in addition to “hamming it up,” we became comfortable with getting our faces out of the text, making eye contact with each other, and adding emotion to the words. We no longer read or spoke haltingly. We were no longer intimidated by unfamiliar words, and we learned how to keep from losing our places in our books while eliminating pauses between speeches. There was nothing to lose, and everything to be gained, so our confidence grew along with our cold reading abilities.

            Many plays are written in a vocabulary that is outside your normal conversational range, and sometimes even out of your comfort zone. Practice cold reading difficult texts: Shakespeare, the King James Bible (with you and your partners alternating paragraphs), or other classical works. With practice, you can sound like you know what you’re saying, even if you don’t!

            The skills we developed goofing around with cold reading translated directly to effective auditioning when we were asked to read a scene with others onstage.

            In my next blog, I’ll give you a step by step strategy for preparing for a cold reading audition.

Keywords:  Cold Reading Skills   Patrick Rainville Dorn