1 Cold-Reading Exercise Every Actor Should Try

Is it possible that you know how to read a phrase or message before you’ve picked it apart?

This summer, I happened to go to a workshop put on by Andy Roth, a casting director in New York City. During his workshop, he shared a number of ideas and concepts that are rarely heard in voice acting classes. One such idea was about the time it took to properly prepare to give a read.

How Well Do You Need to Study the Copy?
When you pick up a script, the natural thing to do is to read over the text from start to finish.

Along the way, you dutifully run the script through multiple filters that help you give the best, most well-informed read that you possibly can. You’re likely thinking of who you are in relation to the audience, where to breathe, when you should fluctuate in pitch, if you should pause for comedic effect, appropriate tone of voice, and so on.

While this is helpful—or at least we think it is—what if in some small way, doing extra studying of the script hinders a read, rather than helps it?

Your Brain: Supercomputer Extraordinaire
What if I were to tell you that in less time than it takes to look at a page of copy, your brain has already assessed the copy and determined how it wants to deliver it?

Roth ran volunteers through an amazing test. Brave souls who ventured to the front to do a cold-read were taken aback by the results! By not analyzing the copy in advance, each participant was able to let their brain take control of the situation and read the copy as they would do so naturally without the burden of further analysis.

Just think. Your brain takes a snapshot of what you are going to read in less than an instant. This is hard to believe, but it’s true.

Ready to Give This Cold-Reading Test a Try?
For the curious and skeptical among us, I invite you to give it a try. Allow your brain to do what it wants to do and be pleasantly surprised by what happens.

This exercise works best in a group setting, but can also be done on your own. If in a group, the following instructions will help.

Group Setting

  1. Identify a facilitator.
  2. Print out a bunch of scripts.
  3. Have readers volunteer to participate.
  4. Have the reader stand in front of the class/group with their eyes closed.
  5. The facilitator positions the script in front of the reader, then instructs them to open their eyes.
  6. Upon seeing, the reader reads immediately letting instinct take over instead of rational thought.

If You’re Doing This on Your Own

  1. Start a new session in your recording studio.
  2. Find a few books or magazines to read from. (Don’t peek at the test text in advance!)
  3. Hit record
  4. Open a book and read one sentence cold without pondering its meaning.
  5. Listen back and see how convincing your read was.

If you think I’ve thrown script analysis and character development to the wind, rest assured I have not. Those are near and dear to my heart to be sure! The fact remains though, that once you’ve tried this for yourself, you’ll see how powerful the human brain is and you just might decide that the next time you read copy, you’ll get out of the way of your brain, even if just for a moment, and see what marvelous reads you are able to muster.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is the co-founder and chief brand officer of Voices.com, the industry-leading website that connects businesses with professional voice talent. 
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