How Child Actors Master Cold Reads

As my mentor, Charles Nelson Reilly, often said, “Acting is hard.” Of course it’s hard, especially when you are asked to do a cold read. Cold readings—when an actor has little or no advance time to review a script before performing a scene—are challenging but an unavoidable reality. This can be especially difficult for young performers who are still mastering basic reading skills, but here are some tips to help child actors master cold readings!

Encourage your child to read aloud every day. When building any skill, a person needs to train regularly. Buy scene books to use as practice. Have your child read the parts out loud with you as his reading partner in the scene. Consider it a daily regimen in order to build and maintain his skills.

Help your young actor learn to read in general. The sooner he masters reading as a skill, the sooner he will be able to master reading and acting at the same time.

New readers are usually advised to memorize their parts if time allows, but in a cold reading this habit can backfire. Children often attempt to memorize their lines even when they don’t have enough time, and that prevents them from focusing on the important aspect of an audition: the acting. Children need to stay connected to the character’s intentions rather than worry about getting the words perfect. Help your child memorize the first and last lines, so they can connect immediately and leave on a strong note.

Prepare what you can in advance. Learn all you can about the project and the characters before an audition. Arrive early on audition day to get as much time with the script as possible. The more your child knows about the context and general story line, the faster she will be able to make sense of a scene that is handed to her in the audition.

Reading the scene aloud several times, even if he has only a few minutes before going in front of the casting director, is helpful. Teach him to clarify anything that is uncertain by asking questions beforehand.

Identifying the character’s motivations and understand the relationship with the other characters in the scene will help her get at what is underneath the dialogue so she can play the intention of the scene rather than focusing on the words.

Coach your child to work with her scene partner rather than talk to the script. Caution her not to study her next line when her scene partner is talking, but rather to listen as he speaks, looking at him and responding in character. She should not be distracted by the paper.

If a line gets flubbed, he should not get thrown off. Coach him to relax and recover. He needs to remain connected to the material and the character, and focus on what the character’s objective is.

Make the process fun. Remind her why she wants to do this so she is motivated to keep training and building her skills. Encourage her to see this as the tool it is to help her reach her goals. Point out that learning to master a cold reading is not the same as being a good actor, so she realizes this isn’t a reflection on her talent as a performer.

Cold readings are hard for even the most seasoned actors. Let your child know that if he keeps practicing, he will improve and stay sharp. Your support will help him do his best when a cold reading is required.