Heidi Helen Davis Worked to Push Theater Beyond Racial and Gender Boundaries

The director, actress and teacher directed more than 20 plays at the Theatricum Botanicum.

A talented actress, director and teacher Heidi Helen Davis believed in pushing theater beyond racial and gender boundaries. She died Dec. 15 after a year-long battle with breast cancer. She was 60.

Davis had been an important figure at the Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga where she directed more than 20 plays including “The Cherry Orchard,” “Our Town” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” She began working with the theater in 1985 after Theatricum Botanicum Artistic Director Ellen Geer saw a piece she had directed on Japanese internment camps.  Geer said Davis was a special director who gave the actors freedom and guided them with a “positive hand that released you rather than suppressed you.”

Geer said the company all felt an artistic connection with her that helped them all rise to a higher level.

“We both have the same feeling that anyone of any gender, any race can play a part if they have the spirit that needs to be behind it,” Geer said. “We were very into breaking the racial and gender boundaries.”

Four days before she died, Geer sat down with Davis and recorded some of her thoughts on what motivated her as an artist.

“The core issue of my life is the fighting against bigotry, whether it be racism, sexism, classism, or tribalism,” Davis told Geer. “It’s what made me want to fight for actors of all color to claim their ownership of this universal material.  The classics belong to everyone and everyone belongs to the classics.”

Davis was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1951. She grew up in Palo Alto, California. She began her acting career at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. While there she appeared in several productions including “Peer Gynt,” Heartbreak House” and “The Little Foxes.” She also played Isabella in “Measure for Measure” at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria and Solvang, California in 1980. She taught acting and directing at many schools, most recently at the Howard Fine Studio and the Los Angeles Film School. In 2000, she worked as the acting coach on the Showtime mini-series “Fidel.” She also worked as the acting coach on the Showtime mini-series “Fidel.” She was also the acting coach on the feature film “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2003.  

Davis is also known for her work at Mark Taper Forum, East West Players and Ensemble Studio Theatre.  At the Ford in 2010, she staged EM Lewis’s “Song of Extinction” about a teenage son dealing with his mother dying of cancer.

She is survived by her son, Benjamin Lyon Freidus, 22, her parents and three siblings.


A statement realeased after she died notes: In lieu of flowers, Ms. Davis requested that donations be sent to Theatricum Botanicum. It was her wish that the funds be dedicated to mentoring the next generation of theater artists. As a person of mixed race, she strongly endorsed the Theatricum's mission to expose all races to the great works. 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, which had been her artistic home over the past 26 years, is planned for next spring.


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