Whenever anyone asked who I’d recommend to study acting with, that name instantly rolled off my tongue for the past 14 years.
Last night I was shocked to discover that my acting teacher, Heidi Helen Davis, has been battling Stage 4 breast cancer for the past year. The chemo hasn’t been working recently and she went into hospice at a friend’s home for her remaining days. I’ve heard she is currently unconscious and in her final hours.
But describing her as my ‘acting teacher’ cannot even begin to scratch the surface and convey all she’s meant to me during the past decade and a half — both as a mentor and human being.
This post is intended to give a silver of a peek into who Heidi is while she’s still with us.
She is and will always essentially be the ‘Mom’ that brought me up within the acting world.
In acting class, you’re always finding ways to access genuine emotions on cue, which very often blurs the line between acting and reality.
I’ve seen divorcees break-down after an emotional scene, former abused children given a haunting flashback from a past life after a riveting performance.
So the instructor is truly the rudder steering this groundswell of emotions and channeling it into productive use. Which requires patience, compassion, nurture, tough love, and focus. All of which Heidi has in spades.
We encounter many teachers during our lifetime that make such a monumental difference; so much so that we would literally be a different person if it were not for them — and Heidi is at the very top of that list for me.
– EVERYTHING – I know about acting — this ‘thing’ that I plan to do for the remainder of my life in some capacity — my foundation was entirely built by this wonderful, wonderful woman. Her lessons for acting and in life will be her legacy in me and the thousands of students she has taught over the years.
I studied with Heidi from 1997-1999 and then in 2003. After reeling in shock over my (perceived) horrendous performance in my first feature film (‘Shrieker’), she was the first person I brought the video cassette (yes, that long ago) to go over scene by scene on what I could have done better. Btw, it wasn’t horrible but I still had a long ways to go.
One of my proudest moments as an actor, was having her and Ben (her son) present at an advanced screening of ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ in 2003. Where for the first time, I was able to pour 110% of everything I’d learned from her at the time into a satisfying, 3-dimensional role on screen.
When I studied with her in ’03, I was now ‘seasoned’, had some credits and prepared the heck out of my scene. There was NO WAY she was going to be able to say anything but “Great Job”. But darn it to hell, she just cranked up the teaching dial a few notches with notes and insight I’d never even thought of — just holding me to a higher standard.
It was as if she was a Kung-Fu Master saying,
“Oh, but I didn’t teach you everything yet ‘lil Grasshopper.”
I’ve studied with many other instructors since then to gain different perspectives, but time and time again found myself more often going, “Meh” instead of “Whoa”.
Quite the opposite with Heidi.
Whenever work slowed for me, I always felt comfort in thinking, “I can always take a refresher with Heidi — that always gets me working again.” And it saddens me that, that can’t ever be a possibility any longer. It is so unfair that this is to be the ending of her story.
I’ve never publicly told anyone this… but since the start of my career — I’ve kept a journal.
It contains memorable lessons and quotes (pertaining to acting and life). But I am extremely selective on what ‘makes it in‘ because my intention is — when this journal is entirely filled up, I should know EVERYTHING there is to know about acting (that’s the plan anyway). I’ve even gone 3 years without hearing anything inspiring enough to make an entry.
After 14 years, it’s only 1/4 of the way filled up.
But in it, are several entries from Heidi.
Below, are a few to share her legacy. To actors, they most certainly apply to acting. But to non-actors, read carefully as they also apply to life in general. They are the lessons I’ve passed onto my own students (and will continue to) and daughters in the future.
Please keep Heidi and her son Ben in your prayers.