Advice For Cold Reading?

Well isn’t this fun!  Congratulations to Josie, a high school student who just won a trip to NYC for the National English Speaking Union’s Shakespeare Competition!  She writes in the comments: I’ve given it my all,but next round is sure to be a challenge.i am to perform a sonnet and a 20 line monologue (tamora from titus andronicus act 1 scene 1 and sonnet 29)the only diffrence is i am also expected to be able to cold read a random monologe that they pick for me and i’ll only have but a minute to look over it 🙁 This competition is based more on the understanding of a piece than the actual performance i would like to know what advice you could give on cold reading shakespeare. Thank you,
I wish I was in a position to help, but I’ve never been a performer of this stuff so I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to deliver a “cold reading”.  Help from the audience? Here’s my best advice, with the above disclaimer in mind.  I’ll use Sonnet 29 as an example, since you have to do it anyway, and not only do I have it in my playlist (Rufus Wainwright, seriously, check him out), I have the lyrics pinned up on my wall at the office: Try your best to find what you feel is the essence of the passage, and then work backwards.  Surely, in 20 lines or so, there is guaranteed to be a passage that clicks with you, that you immediately think “Ok, that makes sense, I get that.”  Then reconstruct as much as you can around that – what came before, what after?  Why?  I once described Sonnet 29 to somebody this way:  “Some days I’m sad and hate my life and I don’t really know why, but you know what?  I think about having you in my life and realize I wouldn’t change anything for the world.” Where’d I get that?  Mostly from “Haply I think on thee.”  I get that.  Makes sense.  What’s right before it?  “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising.”  That’s the twist to be found in all the sonnets – the first half is clearly about these “self despising thoughts”, and it’s the “thinking on thee” that turns it all around from there. Maybe that’s a silly example, maybe it’s too trivial for what you’re going to do, I don’t know.  You’ve got more courage in you than I do, I’ll tell you that!  I could never get up on stage, much less compete at it. Good luck!!

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2 thoughts on “Advice For Cold Reading?

  1. I’ve always enjoyed doing cold readings of Shakespeare for one main reason: many performers dislike cold readings altogether, not to mention cold readings of Shakespeare. So once you get yourself used to reading it, you’ll be that much more impressive. Remember that lots of people will be stressing over this, as it will probably not be the strong point for many actors — but don’t let your guard down!

    A couple of things to do:
    1. Make sure you are comfortable with Shakespeare’s language. Not just as the lofty poetry, but as if it were words you might say conversationally. The more you can read and make the script sound like your own, average thoughts, the more believable the acting sounds. Try reading lots of random Shakespeare aloud to yourself.

    2. Look at the line breaks when something is in pentameter. Shakespeare often put a line break where a pause would sound nice — for thought, or for an emotional breath. He (well, those who transcribed his work) also put periods or colons in the middle of lines for the same purpose.

    Break a leg! 🙂

  2. Shakespeare’s tough to act. But to cold read with a minute prep? That’s mean! 😉

    Underline all the verbs! Make sure the story is being told. The verbs are the #1 part of a speech that make it make sense. Other than that, just read it aloud a couple times and get as much meaning as you can from the text. Pretend you know what you’re talking about.

    Apply all of the above to random, unfamiliar passages of Shakespeare for the sake of practice. Cold reading is a sort of improvisation, but it is possible to practice! Break a leg!

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