Before the Curtain: Tips to Surviving a Cold Read Audition

Carrie Henderson, Vision Magazine Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Maybe you’re a theatre major. Maybe you enjoy acting as a hobby, or maybe you’re just here because your friends dared you to audition for the next school play. For some reason or another, you’ve blocked out an hour of your day committed to waiting in the theatre building to be given the opportunity to display your talent for a chance to be cast.

The director calls your name and you walk up to the front of the room.

“Read side 5.”

Your eyes scan over the piles of sections of script and you pick up the correct packet. As you head back to your seat to read over the script for a couple minutes before being called up to read as the assigned character, you may begin to wonder what in the world you have gotten yourself into. Even if you are more confident in your abilities, you may wonder if there is something you could do better to prepare yourself for what is known as the often dreaded cold reading audition.

With some preparation, however, you don’t have to dread cold readings. Several important steps in preparing for cold readings can make an audition more affective. Amy Dunlap, the chair of the theatre department of North Greenville, also teaches several theatre classes, including acting classes. She said that practicing reading out loud beforehand can be very helpful in preparing for cold readings.

“I have kids, so I read stories to them all the time when they were little, and just practicing that reading out loud skill is really helpful for getting your brain used to picking words up off a page and making sense out of them very quickly. . . It just helps get your brain and your mouth connected, and that’s really helpful in cold readings,” she said.

If you don’t have kids, Dunlap said, you can read textbooks out loud with your roommate.

According to Connor Boulet, practicing reading in front of people can also help with nervousness. Boulet, a sophomore broadcast media major at NGU interested in voice acting, has had experience doing cold readings both at NGU and, before college, his homeschool co-op.

Another useful tool for cold readings is physical preparation, such as drinking water to avoid dry throat, vocal exercises and stretching to relax beforehand, he said.

Dunlap also said that being relaxed is important for cold readings.

Dunlap said that one time she worked with an actor who had dyslexia and struggled with cold readings.

“Cold reads were the bane of his existence because he had a really hard time reading the words off of the page and getting them to make sense,” she said, “Just the idea of having to do a cold reading made him tense up and then it made it harder to read. Teaching yourself to relax and deal with nervous tension is a really important thing.”

According to Dunlap, it’s also a good idea to research the characters of a play beforehand, if possible.

Whether you can research the characters before the audition or not, both Dunlap and Boulet agree that making bold choices during the readings is very important.

“The key to doing cold reads well is to make bold decisions. . . The goal ultimately is to come up with a strong idea for the character. . .and then basically play it out to the best of your ability. . . Even if you are a little unsure about your decision, the important thing. . . is to remain consistent,” Boulet said.

If you are called up to read the same character more than once, stick to your decision, Boulet said.

“Even if it’s [your choice for the character] in completely the wrong direction, and not what the director wants at all, at least they’ll see that you know how to make choices as an actor and you won’t just be a bland, boring person reading words off of a page,” Dunlap said.

Boulet encourages those who do cold reading auditions to just enjoy the process.

“It can be fun to get into the head of one of the characters, even if you don’t have a lot of time to really digest their motivations in thorough detail. . . Spontaneously com[ing] up and having a go at the script can be fun in itself,” he said.

“As a director, it’s really fun for me when I see people enjoying themselves, and if cold readings are things that make you nervous, you need to learn to deal with that so you can relax and have fun,” Dunlap said.

Go forth, make bold choices, have fun and break a leg (not literally).