What makes a cold read bad?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of actors I see on a weekly basis (both in the classes I teach and at Houghton) that do not have good cold reading skills. There are a lot of factors that can make a cold read bad, but today I just want to focus on technical aspects. Specifically, staying out of the script. Below is an example of a bad cold read (done for the purposes of this post):

Bad Cold Read

Now watch the better cold read:

Good Cold Read

It should be blatantly obvious what the differences are. The read itself could certainly be better, but the first thing to notice is that I am out of script on the first paragraph. Keep in mind that I spent less than 10 minutes looking at the script before taping the second take. The lesson is that you should ALWAYS HAVE THE FIRST FEW SENTENCES MEMORIZED. If you don’t, you make no connection with the audience (or your scene partner if it’s for TV/Film) from the outset, and you fight an uphill battle to salvage that callback.

By starting with your eyes out of script, you establish and IMMEDIATE connection, and the audience is engaged. Furthermore, by establishing that connection early, the decision-makers will be more willing to cut you slack when you have to look down at your script later. And you should be familiar enough with the copy that you only have to glance down for a few words here or there.

My first take is atrocious, but you’d be surprised how many actors think that’s an acceptable cold read (or they’re unaware of how buried they are in the script). This becomes even more of an issue with TV and film sides. If you want to ensure your audition gets sent to the client, then you better have spent time with the script. Enough to enable you to establish a strong connection from the start.

One last thing to notice is that gray is not a good color to wear against that blue backdrop 🙂