Here is my quick and easy guide to loving cold reads:
Read the Scene
And I mean all of it. If there is something crossed out, read that too. Stage directions, the page number, scene headings, etc. Read it as many times as you have time for.
Find the Technicals
These are our acting basics: Character, Relationship, Given Circumstances, Stage Directions, Transitions, etc. Basically your who, what, when, where, and why. Write them down. This helps you process them and remember them.
Let it all go and follow your instincts
Just take what you know about the scene and let that be your canvas. Now you can paint whatever you want on it. What is a small thing that interests you about the character? Maybe there is something in the stage directions that describers him or her, or maybe something he/she says, or the way they say it. These little clues are your entry point into the character. Take these little traits and run with them! Let your actor imagination use them to create a fuller character than just reciting the lines. I also highly recommend having a strong Moment Before. This is true of prepared sides, but having a moment before in a cold read helps to put you into the scene and starts you off with a committed choice.
Granted, always stay true to the scene- you can’t just decide your character is an ax murderer if it isn’t in the text. If you make educated acting choices and bring your personality, that is the best you can ask for in an audition!
If cold reads terrify you, just remember these little tips and hopefully you can find some freedom to play!