So you walk into an audition room feeling confident about the monologue you have just prepared. You smile at the casting director. S/he smiles back. You psyche yourself up to perform the material in mind, anxious, only to have the casting director hand you a different text. You are now to do a cold read of the text that you have just received. “When you’re ready,” s/he says.
What do you do?
Don’t panic. First, take a deep breath.
Relax. Have confidence. Performing a text with little to no preparation in advance is challenging and daunting for everyone, even seasoned performers. During cold reads, casting directors are usually well-aware that you are seeing the text for the first time and so, will not be expecting a polished, rehearsed performance. Instead, cold reads are aimed at testing your instincts, spontaneity, ability to make choices under pressure and flexibility as an actor. It is imperative that you stay open-minded and adaptable. Listen to the casting director’s feedback, take critique in your stride and make the necessary adjustments. This will show that you are flexible, perceptive and take direction well.
In the book True and False, David Mamet asserts that as long as the actor says his lines audibly and clearly, he would have already done justice to the playwright’s work. There is no need for the actor to worry about the character’s childhood, for example. The lines alone will give the necessary depth to the character. In fact, there is no need for the actor to try much else. Be in the moment and flow with it. Remember the golden rule: less is more. Over-the-top portrayals will not set you apart from the rest; instead, it will produce cliché acting and have an adverse effect on your performance.
Ask yourself: what is the scene about? The best answers to this question are often only two words long. A break-up. An affair. An argument. Once you have figured this out, make a choice. Decide how you would play the character. Is the character sad, angry, happy or scared? This will help you to identify the circumstances in the scene, build your understanding of the character and give you enough ground to play the scene convincingly during a cold read.