It’s English class and Mrs Obrien is asking us to open our copy of Wuthering Heights to page 53. I’m sweating. It’s an automatic response that stretches back to some obscure memory as a seven-year-old… I hate reading out loud. I take a shallow breath and it begins, Bronte is being hacked to pieces and I can’t wait for it to end.
It was funny how much I struggled reading aloud at high school when I was known at school as the “actor”. I studied drama since year 8, was in school plays and never got anything less than an A+ for all my oral presentations in class. However, when it came to cold reading, it wasn’t the performance element that terrified me, but the fear of being stupid. That fear was what made me stumble.
Now as a 27-year-old actor I am still terrified to read out loud and it impacts my career. Not in a drastic way. Most auditions give you ample preparation time and cold reading is rare, but it does happen. I avoid play reads, and will falter if thrust into any cold reading situation.
I have undoubtedly lost acting opportunities because of my ability to cold read.
Breaking a habit like this, one that harps back to those formative, spongey years of primary school, takes work.
Some in the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ camp might advocate getting involved in a local play reading and just doing it: facing the fear. This might just cure me, but I have found a simpler and more palatable approach: making reading aloud a nightly habit.
If reading isn’t already a nightly habit I would recommend it; reading widely is invaluable for actors. Once you’ve got in the habit of reading each night, make a rule of reading the first three pages aloud.. That’s it.
Practicing cold reading on a regular basis, even if it is just for a few minutes a night, will start to make a real improvement in your cold reading ability. If you’re up for it, experiment with your voice. Try giving the text a performed read. Try accents and new intonations. See if you can read and still keep your eyes up occasionally. When you’re doing a cold read at an audition you can’t bury your face in the page!
Reading each night is a small change, but it has helped my cold reading tenfold. It could lead to you nailing that next cold reading audition. And maybe save you some money on deodorant.
My challenge to you: commit to one month of reading aloud each night for a few minutes (at least three pages). See how you go and if you notice any improvement in your confidence picking up an unfamiliar text.
More on mastering cold reading