Heidi Helen Davis

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 teachercannot 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 patiencecompassionnurture, 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 agoto 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.


36 thoughts on “Heidi Helen Davis

  1. i was so shocked to hear about heidi last night too – she directed me in “the vagina monologues.” i had no idea she was one of your teachers. what a beautiful tribute.

  2. Sorry to hear about your mentor and friend Parry. It is obvious she had a tremendous impact on you. Her teachings are wise and are helpful reminders for me as well, thank you for sharing. – Jerry

  3. Parry: A beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman and teacher…. I too studied with Heidi and also had the good fortune of working with her at the Botanicum….I can totally relate to the sentiments you expressed here. Heidi was much more than a teacher to me, she was a great friend. In her tireless efforts to help me grow as an actor she really helped me grow as a man. Her devotion to her art and to her students is rare. She will be greatly missed, but her spirit will live on in all the many lives she has touched. Love you Heidi.

  4. Thank you very much for your blog about Heidi. She was also a very special acting teacher to me. I hope you don’t mind sharing your post in my FB page.

    • Sachiyo, good to always hear from another ‘Heidi Alum’.

      Please feel free to post on FB — that’s why I wrote it, so that as many people would know, what you and I do about Heidi.

  5. How very gracious of you Parry, to share so much with us. I got to meet Heidi back, way back, when she was in the acting company at ACT in San Francisco. Her brother Bill and I were good buddies, attending SF State together and living in a flat out in the MIssion. I was introduced to Heidi over lunch one day. As you know, her beauty and poise were quite disarming. I could not believe she was a stage actrees. This little thing? Where was the cocky arrogance? To a young actor, like myself, I just did not get it. I can laugh about my clulessness now. She had the goods and she didn’t have to prove anything. I know that Heidi did well directing over the years. Wish I could have reconnected and sat in class with her. Teachers like her are few and far between, as you know.
    Thanks you so much for sharing your admiration, love and experience of knowing Heidi Helen Davis (,,,everytime her brother Bill intoned her name it was with such deep love and pride)
    Sincere Regadrs, Frank Palmer in Brooklyn , NY

  6. Thank you Parry. Heidi was my first great acting teacher who graciously volunteered to direct me further in the Los Angeles Film School “Good Will Hunting” scene. I shared your inspirational story on Facebook and am dedicating “Freedom R.O.U.G.H. Writers Dream” to honor her. Heidi “will never leave” us.
    Your “Here&Now sister” 🙂
    May Wang

  7. Parry, I shared this on my FB page as have 19 others FB says. Work was so important to Heidi and you have shown that so very clearly in this tribute to her. There will be a memorial at Theatricum and when the time comes I hope you will be there to share your experience of her to all. She influenced many people in her many work realms, but your words so clearly bring her to life.
    Thank you,

  8. Pingback: Heidi Helen Davis – Update | Parry Shen's Blog

  9. Hi Parry,
    I am Heidi’s little brother Bill. I cannot thank you enough for this heartfelt tribute to my sister and her work. Beautiful and truthful.



    • Bill,

      I did nothing more than follow what your sister taught me in conveying truth — her lessons and actions stood on their own and clearly spoke for herself.

      It’s the least I could do for someone who has given us all so much.

      Always thinking of you all. – p

      • Bill, I have to second Parry’s sentiments here…. your sister is one of the most beautiful people I have ever known… she has had such a profound impact on my life. Please tell her that I love her and that I thank her for all she has done for me. I am a better person for having known her. B

        and Parry, what you did here on this sight is wonderful and I thank you for it

  10. Hi Parry,

    I spoke with Heidi’s son a few hours ago and he told me that she had a good day;pain free, conscious, and able to talk at great length with him. He seemed relieved and calm and somehow reassured by this.
    I will fly to LA tomorrow and spend the day with him, and if Heidi is up for any visitors, I will see her and tell her of your beautiful entries in your blog, with all of the lovely details.



  11. Hi Parry,

    Bill Davis told me about your blog. Heidi and I were classmates in grad school at ACT back in the 70’s. She is an amazing woman. Her beauty stunned me from the moment I met her but her clarity of thought and fearlessness in everything she did combined with a truly graceful soul made her someone who will always be dear to me. She is an incredibly special person. Thank you for writing about her as a teacher and a mentor.


    • Hi Kate,

      Oh, ‘clarity of thought, fearlessness combined with a graceful soul’ is the absolute perfect phrase to describe her. Thank you for chiming in on this thread. Boy, what I’d or any of her students would give to see her in ACT action back in the 70’s.

  12. Pingback: Heidi Helen Davis – Update 2 | Parry Shen's Blog

  13. She always challenged herself and everyone who was in her presence. I love that you have posted so many tributes. Let’s pull the energy and create a miracle. Rita

  14. My name is Barbara Dirickson and I have just heard that Heidi is not well. I have known her for many many years and she has always been a star…not the Hollywood star…the up in the sky burning hot fast and bright kind of star….her light will NEVER burn out …it will simply shift its position…but it will always be there for us to see and look up at even millions and millions of miles away…mark my words

  15. Thank you so much, Parry! You just gave more voice to Heidi and she will never be forgotten. She more than existed, she lives!

    I love you, Heidi. You are my Asian big sister that went before me and paved the way at the large institution of The American Conservatory Theatre. I have always looked up to you and always will. You are a ground breaker and looks as though you’re breaking new ground as you’re invited to join others in new realms—blessings for a journey forward with our love and peace.

    Much love and many blessings,

  16. Pingback: RIP – Heidi Helen Davis | Parry Shen's Blog

  17. Hi Parry,
    My name is Alonzo Perez. I was one of her directing students at the Los Angeles film school before she left last year. I wanted to thank you for posting this tribute. For the little time we had left with her at our school before she left, I feel she made a great impact in my life. She was a great person to talk to and an amazing teacher. Thank you for this.

    Alonzo Perez

  18. Hello Parry,

    I had the pleasure and honor of learning how to direct actors from this wonderful talented women! While attending the Los Angeles Film School in 2006/2007 I had taken two “How to Direct Actors” classes with Heidi. She was an extremely talented and fearless women, she was full of fire and knew how to rip you to pieces and put you back to together in one session. She didn’t hesitate pushing you past your limits! I learned a lot from her and even developed a small connection with her where we would share a bit more personal information about ourselves to one another, I saw the more family side of her as opposed to strictly professional! She loved her son dearly, talked about him non-stop and I am certain she LOVED what she did for a living and saying that she definitely lived the life she wanted to! She gave me confidence in my work and was with me on my graduation day cheering for me as my movie played on the big screen. For that I thank her! I am certain she fought the good fight and gave it all she could because thats just who she was!

    Dearest Heidi you will be in my thoughts and memory forever! Go peacefully into eternity…

    Christopher M Simon
    LA Film School Grad

    P.S. I was wondering if you planned on printing this or emailing this BLOG to her family? Thank you again for posting!

  19. Thank you for everything you taught me, you showed me what Directing really was when the school failed to provide that and you made me believe in myself as a Director by putting me on the spot in from of my peers and i actually did a great job. You will be miss love u Ms Heidi your student Delvon simmons

  20. Parry, Thank you for blogging and logging this information / event into cyber history. You are actually my news source for finding out about Heidi’s passing. And a fitting one at that. I’m pleased the news comes from people she loved and who loved her. She was a wonderful teacher and person. I was pleased to have studied with her at the Los Angeles Film School during 03/04. She was a true highlight of my education. And she also spoke fondly of you! – J. Steele

  21. I was one of the last few classes she taught before she left the school. During those times as a student, you’re ambition about the roles you can play on set and your future career overlook your actual ability to responsibly fulfill a role. When I took her directing class that year, that was one of the main reasons why I steered towards a technical aspect of production and not directing. It wasn’t because she misguided me in a way to the point where I would’ve said, “This isn’t for me” but she showed me exactly how important the director was to the actor and what specific guidance is needed in order to key in on what a scene was really about and how that should translate with the characters. I felt after that class that it was far to important to not be a director if I couldn’t give specific direction because I understood for her the importance of being specific with emotion and the damage it could do if not handled with care.

    Heidi Davis was a remarkable woman. I was only able to speak with her for the duration of the course which was a month, but I always intended to seek her consultation when I felt I was ready to drive a story. I missed her when she left the school, and I will surely miss asking upon her gifts in the future.

    Thank you for sharing.

  22. Hi Parry – thank you for keeping this blog. 2 days ago, I remembered Heidi, then I googled-it’s been 2 years since she left us on December 15, 2011. I read your blog, and others’ comments, and the news about her. I started connecting dots about her life. What I can contribute is besides all the major theaters, well-know film schools she has taught, directed in Los Angeles, very little news has mentioned that she has taught theater in Bakersfield. It was obviously a long, long commute to go there, practically middle of nowhere. I remember she told me her “boss” in Bakersfield just begged her – “Please Heidi, just stay here, teach anything. Because people here have never seen anybody like you. They need to learn from you”. I don’t want to speculate what that gentleman meant exactly by that. I just remember Heidi shared that with me, in a manner that she knows what she was doing – every project – directing, teaching, acting- she had a purpose. She didn’t just go for the glamor of big screen, big projects. She treated every project, big or small, with equal amount of dedication, professionalism, and passion.
    I can’t hold my tears even today – she is a true role model to all of us.

    • Hi Parry and Lilian,
      This past week I gave my sister’s memory a moment of silence on the second anniversary of her death here on earth.
      I am deeply touched by the thought that others are thinking of her still; recalling her demanding personality and exacting teaching style; her dedication to good and honest acting; her pioneering attitude for Asian American Actors in the Theatre.

      Lilian, I remember when she was teaching at Bakersfield, and how long the drive was and how dedicated she was to her students; I remember her correcting their grammar, punctuation, syntax. The funny part was she never finished a bachelor’s degree!

      Oh, yes, I miss her. And now, after 20 years of not acting, I am going to be in a production of The Cherry Orchard, playing Lopakhin. Every day when I have to sit with my script, I think “What would Heidi advise me? What would she tell me? What questions would she ask?”

      Bill Davis, DVM

  23. This week I saw a video of acting coaches imparting their lessons and all I could think about was wishing to hear Heidi’s voice imparting those same words of wisdom one more time. It was always so comforting/reassuring to hear her just talk about anything, really.

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