How to Read the Room: A Guide for Performers

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Good acting entails more than just memorizing lines and giving a solid performance—it also means communicating and connecting with the audience. This is where the ability to read a room comes into play. Here’s everything you need to know about reading a room, from why it matters to how to do it.


What does reading the room mean?

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To “read the room” is to observe a group of people in a specific setting, understand their general mood, and then revise your behavior to match it. Reading the room requires observation and communication skills, particularly the ability to pick up on nonverbal cues.

Why does the ability to read a room matter for performers?

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Reading the room improves your abilities to audition in front of strangers, connect to audiences, and work the crowd as an improv performer or comedian. Or, as RuPaul would say, “Because reading is what? Fundamental!” 


Reading the room is a particularly helpful skill for auditions. According to acting coach Rob Adler, “The actor who wows is the one who surprises their audience without breaking the reality of the given circumstances. That’s the trick to a great audition.” 

Surprising the audience while still honoring given circumstances is “constant discovery within the scene,” Adler told Backstage. Constant discovery allows you to recognize your auditors’ general mood and what it is they’re expecting from you. From there, you can tweak your performance to make it more engaging for that specific room, not just a broad audience.  

Audience connection

Actors must connect to the audience to create the sort of dynamic communication necessary for a compelling performance. Reading the room before performing means that you’re aware of who’s paying attention, what they’re paying attention to, and the general vibe. Reading the room during a performance allows you to adapt to better appeal to your audience. If you’re giving an impassioned dramatic monologue, for example, keeping an eye on the audience can help you know the exact moment you should let that single tear track down your cheek. 

Improv and comedy

Getting a read on the room helps you win over the audience if you’re doing improv or comedy, which involve more active communication with the audience. If you’re doing a comedy bit, for example, you may want to modify your performance in the moment depending on if it’s hitting with the audience or not. 

While the ability to read the room is less vital when filming a scene, the skill still creates better performances since it shows you how to actively listen and respond to fellow actors.

How to read a room

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Reading a room involves observing the audience, assessing the situation, and adjusting your performance and interactions accordingly.

  1. Observe: Imagine you’re filming a nature documentary or are a fledgling anthropologist and simply observe your audience for a few beats. 
  2. Assess: Be on the lookout for factors such as audience demographics, body language, and facial expressions. Are they smiling and talking to one another? Frowning with furrowed brows? Did a group of protestors show up to your performance? Whatever the situation, assessing the audience allows you to better engage them with your performance.
  3. Adjust: Once you’ve observed and assessed the audience, consider the ways you might adjust your performance. If you find yourself performing your comedy routine to an audience of boomers, for example, you might want to leave out jokes about TikTok trends—or at least revise them to provide more context. If your audience seems engaged and open, you can probably dive right into your performance. If they’re sitting silently with their arms crossed, you may want to spend some time warming them up first.
  4. Respond with presence: Make small changes to your performance based on how the audience is behaving in the moment. “Without responding directly, you take into consideration and apply the feedback the spectators are giving you,” advised theater director Ana Mărgineanu on how to read the room mid-performance. “You change the rhythm or the tone depending on the comments you hear. Even though it may seem that your concentration breaks, it actually increases.” 

Take the cold open of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Season 5, Episode 9, for example. Terry tells the squad about the recent death of their old CO, Captain McGintley. Charles walks in jauntily and says, “Hey, has anyone seen a worm? Because this funky chicken’s hungry.”

Jake replies, “Charles, a man has died. Read the room!” 

Although Jake himself did not react in what might be considered an appropriate way to the news, he is otherwise correct. Had Charles taken the time to read the room before entering, he would have 1) observed the looks on everyone’s faces, 2) assessed the situation and realized they must be discussing something somber, and 3) adjusted his behavior accordingly by not entering the room in funky chicken mode. If he read the room during his outburst, he likely would have realized he should cut it short.