How Reading Out Loud Can Benefit Actors

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Reading aloud isn’t just for bedtime stories and debate club competitions, nor is it solely the domain of wordsmiths and bookworms. The practice can be beneficial for anyone—particularly actors, who gain script analysis and performance skills by giving voice to the written word.

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What are the benefits of reading out loud?

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Oral storytelling is enjoyable for listeners, as the millions who tune into the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Storyline Online, which features actors performing children’s books, can attest. But it’s valuable for the reader, too. Whether you’re an actor or voiceover artist, the practice can improve your ability to engage with and analyze scripts and self-assess to prepare for auditions and performances. 

Literary engagement

One of your jobs as an actor is to breathe life into language. According to psychologist Colin MacLeod, who studies the relationship between reading aloud and memory, the practice leads to better retention of texts—a phenomenon he calls the production effect. Reading aloud helps you situate a given word in context, improving your ability to pronounce, reference, and incorporate it in the future.

Script analysis skills

We pay more attention to words and thoughts when we vocalize them. (There’s a reason why rubber duck debugging works for coders, after all.) Saying something out loud improves your active listening, which can mean better script analysis skills. Instead of passively receiving a text, which can happen when you read it silently, speaking it makes you an active participant in constructing its meaning. 

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For example, while you might choose to perform a retort with anger simmering just beneath the surface, another actor may opt to deliver the same line with an indifferent attitude. Reading a script aloud forces you to make acting decisions, which makes you more intimately acquainted with your character’s motivations and narrative arc—as well as the story’s themes, messages, and tone. 

Self-assessment

Hearing your voice instead of just imagining how you might sound means you can better assess your performance, because it can help you notice your flaws. You may discover that you need to work on projecting your voice, your Irish accent needs refining, or you tend to get tripped up on words with more than three syllables. Take note of personal bugaboos and adjust accordingly. To really dig deep, record yourself so you can listen back to evaluate your vocal mechanics and intonation, as well as make note of any mistakes.

Audition prep

Regularly reading scripts out loud can help you to feel more comfortable in auditions—especially in cases where you’re asked to do a cold read. Steady practice can teach you how to flesh out characters, respond to readers quickly, and imbue your voice with emotion.

What to read aloud

reading aloud

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  • Monologues: Whether it’s a one-minute speech or a villainous soliloquy that lets you be your best bad self, performing a monologue is good practice for any actor looking to perfect their audition skills. It can also be useful to   compare your delivery with recordings of the same piece by a famous actor. 
  • Your favorites: Performing a work you know and love out loud feels like slipping into a favorite pair of PJs: warm, comfy, and familiar. If you’re just getting started on your journey, try reading excerpts from your favorite books, plays, or movie scripts. Since you already know the characters, plot, and emotions of the narrative, you’ll be in a comfortable place to refine your delivery style. 
  • Texts that challenge you: You might be amazing at rattling off Cassie’s lines from “Euphoria” but find yourself struggling with Shakespearean lingo. (Just what does it mean, as written in “Titus Andronicus,” to “thund’rest with thy tongue”?) Overcome your weak spots by trying out dialogue that pushes your acting skills in terms of genre, time period, dialect, and style. 
  • Practice scripts: These works are usually character-centric, stakes-driven, and feasible within your specific skill set, allowing you to hone your acting skills. You can find quality options on sites like Scripts on Screen and SimplyScripts, as well as archival hubs like Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Drama Online.
  • Prep texts: If you have an upcoming audition or performance, it’s not only important but imperative to rehearse your lines aloud. Read through the entire script to ensure you have a solid understanding of the story and its structure, then start making decisions about your delivery. Speak your lines using different inflections, intonation, and speeds to see how they feel, and adjust accordingly. 
  • Just about anything: Any written piece can become part of your practice. Give voice to text messages from friends, marketing emails, or even the copy on the back of a shampoo bottle. The more you practice reading out loud, the better.

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