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Whether you get your sides at an audition, or just minutes before, these tips will make a cold read look like a prepared read. Grab your pencil and highlighter and jump in.
1. Scan through the first half page of a script, then the last half page. This will tell you where the scene or character ends up, so you can play how they change (their ‘arc’) from the beginning of the scene to the end. Then quickly scan the stage directions and look for essential physical actions like slaps, kisses, entrances and exits. Finally, choose three or four places to control the time, (at least two in the first half-page), and quickly memorize the lines you speak immediately after these moments. With practice, this process can be done very quickly, and if you still have time you can then read the scene from beginning to end. Resist the temptation to read aloud with someone else who is at the audition until you have done this crucial preparation, or to socialize with friends who are at the audition.
2. Hold the script very still when you are auditioning. It is distracting when actors rustle or wave the script around. Also, it breaks your hand-eye coordination, making it harder to find where you left off when you return your eyes to the page. If you keep the script still, it will disappear for the auditors and they will focus more on you and what is happening in the scene. Use your thumb to keep your place on the page.
3. Never speak when you are looking at the page. Instead, look down, pick up (or ‘steal’) the line from the page, look at your scene partner and then say the line to them. Also, don’t keep your eyes on the script when your partner is speaking. Rather than looking down to steal your line while they are speaking to you, stay with your partner with your eyes, letting what they say land on you. When they are finished, then look down for your line. This is particularly important for filmed auditions, where your reactions to the other person are often more important than the words you speak.
4. Keep your head movement to a minimum when stealing lines by moving your eyes only when looking down. Reading aloud to children is good practice for building up this skill—experiment with how much you can keep eye contact while reading a story to them.
With time, these skills will become natural with practice. Especially when auditioning, when nerves often come up, these techniques need to become habits that are in your body so you don’t have to think about them during auditions.