Cold Readings, Cold Feet | Playbill

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Special Features Cold Readings, Cold Feet Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of cold readings,cold feet, and career choices. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of cold readings,cold feet, and career choices. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

During the past semester, I was able to watch some auditions here at school and I noticed that when asked to do a cold reading, the actors most often than not seemed to fall back into their previous roles, especially if they had performed recently. I know I catch myself doing this and was wondering if you could give a couple reasons for why this happens and how to avoid it.

Dear Craig,
Thanks so much for your question and allowing me to cover the topic of cold readings. The fact that you are a keen observer of behavior tells me you have some very important tools needed to become a great actor.

What you saw in your peers and yourself is indicative to me of incorrect actor habits and poor training. It sounds like the actors you witnessed were accustomed to building character, which is one part of the process- but they were not bringing themselves to the reading.

How could anyone, after glimpsing at only a part of a script for at most 20 minutes-- really know who the character they're portraying is? In their efforts to construct a "character," someone outside of themselves- the actors reverted to what was most familiar to them--the last "character" they played. Old character shapes are a crutch. While they may defend the actor from the feeling of fear and the chaos of not fully knowing the script, they also block out the spontaneity, creative impulses and freedom that a cold reading offers. If you find yourself slipping into a persona in an audition, let it be a sign that you are not in the moment.

The key to the cold audition is to open up to all the possibilities and allow yourself to discover the reality of the scene right there in the audition, without having planned it all out it before. It's a big risk but it is also very rich and freeing. My most exhilarating cold readings were when I had barely even looked at the text prior to the audition.

Here are some cold reading tips:

  • When you get the script, avoid trying to figure everything out. Instead, simply read the lines of the scene. If you catch yourself trying to figure the character and the scene out, just go back to the simple words.
  • Then, if you have them, take a few moments to summarize, to the best of your ability, what is happening in the scene. If you still have time, read the scene again. Just the lines.

  • Then clarify some of the circumstances: Where the characters are, what time of day and century is it, why the characters are they there, what they are doing. Once you find the answers, just let them go.
  • Make one strong choice: I suggest in a cold reading you always focus on what the character wants from the other character(s). Keep it simple. Commit to your objective.
  • If you still have time, freely think about the character you are playing. Let thoughts, colors flavors and images float through your mind without trying to clamp down and fixate on any of them.
  • Take some slow deep breaths. THE READING

  • In the reading keep it slow and simple. Breathe. Don't rush.
  • Listen to your partner, even if he's a poor actor or bland hired reader, hear the words he is saying and give yourself time to respond.
  • Trust your instincts. By listening and responding, your instincts will guide you to exactly where the character is supposed to be.
  • If you get lost from the page, don't drop the character, just stay with it, until you find it on the page--or you can improvise the line.
  • If you feel self-conscious, focus on the person reading with you and connect with them, when your eyes are not on the page. Are you getting what you want? How do they make you feel? Infuse your words with that feeling.

In summary, the worst thing you can do is be over-prepared for a cold audition. Let the reading lead you. The spontaneity and aliveness is what makes an actor so attractive. A good director will see this and, even if the actor has not given the character interpretation the director desires, he will know the actor can act. Then, if you're lucky, he'll ask you to read again, giving you direction. And that should be a piece of cake.

Dear Blair,
I'm an actor who is trying to build a resume with theatrical credits that professional and Equity theatres would find impressive. I have come across an opportunity to be an extra in the local Equity theatre's production of a play. I would not have any speaking lines (or a name for my character) and I would probably help move set pieces. At the same time, the local community theatre is doing a musical. I'm not the best singer, so my goal would be to make it into the chorus. So, what would be more impressive, chorus in community theatre or non-speaking extra in local Equity theatre production??? I couldn't do both because the performance dates overlap.
Thanks for the advice

Hey Sherria,
Once again, nice to hear from you. I'm always for the "follow-your-heart" answer, as opposed to the "follow-the-rules" one. Ask yourself: Out of the two parts, which do you feel more drawn to--which do you think you'll learn more from and have more fun in? I suggest you audition for the part you want to do more. This way it will be easier to learn.

In making your decision, read the plays. Also, remember that when you are in productions, you will meet people that can become future artistic peers and associates. Will you gain Equity points and are Equity points important to you right now?

Second question!
I am having a heck of a time finding a contemporary comic monologue for an actress in her 20's. Any ideas? I'm looking for a one to two minute piece. . .

As for young female comic monologues, I always seem to think there is a dearth of these. They're out there. I could write a list, but better you discover the pieces and the playwrights, so you find something just right for you and broaden your script knowledge.

Give yourself a nice chunk of time, a project for a few hours a week. Go to your local library or drama bookstore and discover our modern comic playwrights. Here are some to look out for: Nicky Silver, John Patrick Shanley, Neil Simon, Caryl Churchill, James Sherman, Paula Vogel, Alan Ayckbourn, Ray Cooney and Dario Fo.

If you are unable to find enough scripts you like in your area, The Drama Book Shop in NYC sends scripts all over the country; 1-(800) 322-0595.

Dear Blair,
I have a BFA in acting and consider myself a well-trained and talented actor. However, I recently "choked" at an audition because of many reasons which are irrelevant. My question is this: How does one get over a really lousy audition? I have had nightmares and feel terrified to audition again since. Any advice?

Hey Anne,
Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, I probably can't tell you anything you don't already know.

"Choking" is one of those hateful but kind of necessary experiences of the trade. The best thing you can do, is gently stare it in the face. Without taking a whip to yourself, look at it. The reasons may have been irrelevant to write to me, but examine them for yourself.

Here are some questions: Why'd you choke? What were some of the factors? How badly did you want the part? What are the feelings involved?

Simply looking at the experience, without criticizing yourself for choking, will help you pick up the pieces and move on.

Remember why you want to be a performer and that these experiences and each audition are stepping stones to building inner confidence and faith in your skill and talent. The humiliation of the choke is about as bad as its gonna get. And you're surviving.

I also want to recommend strongly that you review the first question in the Ask Blair: Jan. 4-16, accessible on the web from the sidebar. Thanks again for your question. Good luck, Anne.

Dear Blair,
I'm going out for an audition in a month. How do you suggest I prepare? I am 14, and since I am a full-fledged [adolescent], my voice tends to take two routes. At times, I am able to sing soprano, but sometimes when i sing soprano I sound like Peter Brady. What I do is pick a song, sing for the director, and leave. The audition is for "Brigadoon" "Peter Pan" and "The Music Man," all three plays.
Since this would be my first professional audition, I don't have much experience. Is experience essential for getting the job? What about references? I know one woman who knows the director. She's coming with me on the audition to see him. Do you think this is wise?
I've wanted to be an actor since I was seven, and I need to see if my talent is appreciated. I really appreciate you giving me this advice.
P.S.- I do not have a vocal coach, but I do have a music teacher who is willing to help.
Thanx again
Foster (you can call me Orsino)

Dear Orsino,
Thanks for getting back to me with all the info.
Congratulations on your first big audition! It's exciting, huh? Anyway, as best you can, try to avoid focusing on what a big deal it is and view the audition as an exciting opportunity to see what a professional audition is like. Anytime you've never done something before is an opportunity for learning.

I think it's fine that your friend who knows the director is coming with you. Always good to have contacts.

Take your time in preparation. Pick a song that you feel confident about singing. Sing a song you love and practice with your music teacher. Sing the song for friends and family. If you trust them, ask them to give you feedback --get used to taking constructive criticism to improve your audition skills.

Practice often, but not necessarily everyday. About six hours a week should be plenty--take a little more or less. Don't push it, Foster. You'll do great. Thanks for asking. Let me know how it goes!

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