What is a “Cold Read”?

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  • What is a “Cold Read”?

    (By Tonya Tannenbaum)

    (Photo by Roxane Clediere on Unsplash)

    A “cold read” refers to a type of audition where the actor is expected to perform with little-to-no preparation. Usually, the actor is given the lines they are to perform upon arriving at the audition, leaving very little time for the actor to learn and familiarize themselves with the material.

    Normally, an actor is given their sides or a script at least a day before they are to audition. In this way, the actor is given sufficient time get ready for the audition. The actor has time to prepare in a variety of ways. They can:

    • Learn their lines, or at least familiarize themselves with the lines

    • They have time to create a backstory and to make strong character choices

    • They have time to research the project, learning about the show, company, product, characters, director or anything else involved in the production.

    A “cold read” challenges the actor to perform without these areas of preparation. The actor must quickly gain an understanding of their character, the story and their character’s place in the story relative to the other characters.

    (Photo by Spencer Backman on Unsplash)

    Because of this lack of prep-time, cold reads are not the norm. However, cold reads do have their place. Cold reads can be useful when a role must be cast quickly, like:

    • when an actor must be replaced on short notice

    • when actor is asked to audition for a different role, upon arriving at the audition

    • when a role is added at the last minute

    • when a script is unexpectedly changed before auditions begin

    • when a production would like to rapidly narrow its casting choices.

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