Isa Totah

Director, acting coach, screenwriter & actor.

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Showing Up

One of my most successful actions over the years is to simply show up. This has worked in a variety of fields and occupations, including acting and directing.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

When my teacher, Milton Katselas, directed a play or a scene, I was the first to find out about it and the first to show up at the “closed” rehearsals. He’d look at me with a glint in his eye and ask how I found out about it. I’d shrug. He’d tell me the rehearsals were closed and I’d leave, then show up again the next rehearsal. He’d smile and shrug, and let me come in and watch. I’d volunteer to help with sound or lights or whatever he needed. Over the years, I got invaluable lessons in directing by watching him work on over two dozen productions.

Ultimately, my showing up led Milton to cast me as the lead in two of his plays. Both were rare experiences I will never...

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How to Make Auditioning Not Suck

Actors need to audition frequently. When auditions are scarce, they become too precious and too much pressure is then exerted to get the part. The result is often the opposite — not getting the role. When you audition, there has to be a sense that there is no scarcity… that there are many, many more opportunities ahead. That’s hard to accomplish when one auditions rarely. So do the work needed to:


NEVER sit at home waiting for a call. Submit your headshot and resumé all the time… submit, submit, submit. Submit to student films, theater companies, TV, online sites, indie films, and anyone else holding an audition.

If you have an agent or manager, don’t assume they are submitting you in sufficient quantity. Develop a good relationship with representatives and make sure they are doing their job. Don’t nag — inspire! And then supplement their work with your...

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Simplicity or Complexity

Simplicity has a bad name in society. Somehow, we are led to believe that complexity is more desirable than simplicity. I don’t believe that to be true.

This philosophy has negatively affected many actors, especially through the field of acting instruction. In an attempt to add layers to their performances, actors are taught a myriad of techniques that often just muddy their acting, or cause it to be stilted.

And yet, if we examine a brilliant performance, it is filled with countless apparent “choices” the actor has made from tics, glances, inflections, gaits and emotions that make up the brilliance. The problem arises when someone tries to reverse engineer the performance — they come up with all sorts of techniques that had nothing to do with how the original actor prepared.

But great actors do deliver complex characters and detailed performances. How do they do that?


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How to Fail as an Actor

Here are some handy tips on how to fail as an actor.

If you’re not an actor, no worries, the laws of failure are universal. Just substitute “actor” for any occupation you care to choose.


  1. Audition occasionally, but don’t actively seek out work. Let others do that for you.

  2. Blame the industry. Tell yourself, “no one is writing roles for ____ (insert age, ethnicity, body type, gender, etc.) actors these days.“

  3. When you’re starting your career, turn down work that’s beneath you or isn’t a lead in a studio film. It’s better to stay at home than do a student film or some play for no pay.

  4. Do it tomorrow. If you have a project or assignment you need to do for your career, wait. Today always sucks. Tomorrow might be better.

  5. Base your career on your feelings. If you don’t feel like getting out of bed some days, then go with it. Watch TV instead. Eat that donut. Have that...

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