Heidi Helen Davis, a director, actress and teacher of those arts known for her work at Los Angeles’ Theatricum Botanicum, Mark Taper Forum, East West Players and Ensemble Studio Theater, died Dec. 15 in Los Angeles after a yearlong struggle with breast cancer. She was 60.
Davis staged more than 20 plays at Theatricum Botanicum since 1985.
Artistic director Ellen Geer said: “She had a way of working with actors that allowed risk and complete exploration guided by instinct. I saw a piece of hers about Japanese internment camps in the late ’80s. Remarkable direction. I asked to meet her and she was my compatriot in art from then on.”
Davis’ memorable productions at Theatricum included her adaptation of “The Cherry Orchard” set in the Old South, “Our Town” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
Davis attended Cal Poly State U. and then trained in San Francisco with Phillip Pruneau of the Poverty Players and at the city’s American Conservatory Theater under the direction of Bill Ball and Allen Fletcher. She appeared in ACT productions including “Peer Gynt,” “Heartbreak House” and “The Little Foxes.”
She taught numerous acting and directing students over the years, most recently at the Academy of Art U. in San Francisco, Howard Fine Studio and the Los Angeles Film School. She was also the acting coach on the Showtime miniseries “Fidel” in 2000 and on the feature film “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2003.
James Pasternak, a colleague at the Los Angeles Film School where she taught from 2001 to 2010, said: “She taught film directors how to direct actors. Her mastery was immediately recognized and she was given her own studio at the school. She was fearless in her quest for dramatic truth. She had an uncanny diagnostic talent, derived from her own successful directing, that helped other directors find a unique vision of their movie, and a way to collaborate with the actors and crew to realize that vision. The whole school is in mourning.”
After staging its world premiere at [Inside] the Ford in L.A. in 2010, Davis directed the U.K. premiere of E.M. Lewis’s “Song of Extinction” — a play centering on a teen coming to grips with his mother dying of cancer — at Venue 13 for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
At the time of her death she was directing a class production of “Loose Ends” at Academy of Art U.
Born in 1951 in Wichita, Kansas, Davis grew up in Palo Alto and started writing and directing theater as a child.
Her marriage to cinematographer Lloyd Freidus ended in divorce. She is survived by a son, her parents and three siblings.
Donations may be sent to the Heidi Helen Davis Intern Fund at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, P.O. Box 1222, Topanga, CA 90290. A public memorial at Theatricum Botanicum is planned for next spring.