Two minutes into my first public reading more than 20 years ago in Portland, Oregon, my mouth was parched and my nose ran so much I had to ask the audience for a tissue. I stood at the podium with my lips welded to my teeth, until someone handed me a cocktail napkin and a cup of water. The rest of the reading was an out of body experience.
Until that moment, I had assumed that reading was easy. I had acted in plays and sang in musicals. How hard could it be to read aloud? I had failed to consider that for the plays and musicals, we had done hours of rehearsal. What I had attempted to do was the equivalent of showing up opening night with sheet music in my hand planning to wing it.
Since then, I’ve done many readings and even performed my solo show off-Broadway at the United Solo Theatre Festival. I’ve learned that to read well, you must train like a pro. Here’s a guide to what you need to do to show up with confidence.
Two Weeks Before: Have a Rehearsal
- Rehearse in front of at least one friend. Warning: You may resist this. I hate how vulnerable I feel at this first rehearsal. But now I know that I’d rather be embarrassed in front of one person than a roomful. The more you rehearse, the more relaxed you will be. Rehearse at least once.
- Give thought as to which friend you invite to this rehearsal. You want to rehearse with someone who inspires confidence, who can tell you what you did well and who can give you suggestions that leave you feeling motivated, not devastated.
- Before your rehearsal, warm up your body and voice.
- If possible, rehearse in the space where you’ll be reading. If you’ll be using a microphone, practice with one.
- At your rehearsal, have your friend read your introduction, time your reading and practice the Q&A with you.
- If you plan on standing, stand with your weight evenly distributed on both feet. If you’re reading at a lectern, practice with one.
- The more familiar you are with your text, the more you can look at the audience during your reading. But don’t worry about looking at the audience.
- Ask your friend: “Am I reading too fast? Can you hear me?”
- Your reading voice may drone. This is common when anyone reads. If you notice this, stop reading. Have your friend ask you a question about anything, as simple as: “What did you do this morning?” Answer the question. Notice how different your voice and intonation sound when you speak in conversation. This is the voice you want—your conversational voice.
The Week Before: Confirm with Your Host
- Warm up your body and voice every day. If you exercise regularly, do your routine. If you never exercise, take a walk. While walking, feel your feet hit the ground; notice your breath. Observe sights, sounds, smells. After your exercise, practice a facial and vocal workout.
- Choose your outfit. Your clothes should: look great on you, feel comfortable and been worn before or at the rehearsal. You don’t want to discover during the reading that your fly unzips on its own.
- Confirm with your host the following:
- You’ll arrive 45 minutes before the reading. This allows time to get lost and check out the room.
- They will introduce you. You can mention that you’ll write your own introduction if they would like.
- How long you’ll read and answer questions.
- Where you’ll sign books and that someone else will be handling payments.
A performer (which is what you are now) needs to know her choreography‚what happens when and where. Figuring out these logistics ahead of time allows you to enjoy the limelight.
The Day Of: Arrive Early and Belly Breathe
- Get comfortable at the front of the room. Enjoy the view from the podium.
- Practice with the microphone, if necessary. If you have a sound person, ask to do a sound check so you can hear your voice and they can check sound levels.
- Place your water nearby.
- Put tissues in your pocket.
- Sit in the audience. Walk around the room. This is to help you get used to the space and so it can feel like it’s “yours” for the time that you’re reading.
- You may feel nauseous, sweaty, shaky. This is normal. You may want to run for the hills. Again, normal.
- Stretch, breathe.
- If you brought a supportive friend, which always helps, talk to them. They’ll remind you that you’re prepared and gorgeous and that this is no big deal—just a rehearsal for the next reading.