About the Founder
Melissa Thompson Esaia is an actor, teacher, director, writer, producer and activist. She wrote, directed and starred in her first play at the age of 10 and has been working professionally in film, television, commercials and theatre for over 20 years.
Melissa studied The Meisner Technique for two years with Sanford Meisner’s last teaching protégé. There are many teachers of the Meisner Technique throughout the world, but there are only a handful that Sandy personally trained to teach his technique, and Melissa's teacher was the last of these. Melissa was and remains the only student in over 30 years of teaching that he felt possessed the qualities Sandy instilled in him were necessary for a great teacher of actors and the Meisner Technique. When she completed her formal training, she was invited to continue on as his first teacher-in-training. She then apprenticed intensively to learn how to teach the Meisner Technique, as purely and authentically as Sandy taught it. Melissa quickly emerged as a dedicated and skilled teacher, mentor and leader, and she served as Assistant Director and Head of Faculty at The Meisner Technique Studio in San Francisco for 12 years. In 2019 Melissa left The Meisner Technique Studio and founded Empowerhouse Acting Studio, with teaching centers in Berkeley and Santa Rosa, California. Melissa has trained hundreds of actors, who are now working professionally in film, television, commercials and theatre in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and beyond. Melissa's students have described her as "dedicated, kind, nurturing, clear, specific, funny, compassionate, wise, graceful, inspiring, genuine and masterful."
In 2011, Melissa formed Kina'ole Pictures, a production company focused on creating films that spotlight social and environmental issues. She is a voice for animal welfare and works in Japan with Ric O'Barry, star of the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove, where she documents the annual dolphin hunts that take place there. Melissa’s video footage of the annual hunts has been seen worldwide, including CNN Headline News with Jane Velez Mitchell. Melissa is the director and producer of the upcoming feature length documentary film, A Beginner's Guide to Saving the World, featuring musicians Michael Franti, Matt Sorum (Guns n' Roses, The Cult, Velvet Revolver) and Ric O'Barry (The Cove). She was a finalist in the American Documentary Film Festival's Film Fund Pitch Competition. She also directed and produced the documentary short, Kikito, and she wrote, directed and starred in the narrative short, Happy. She is currently in pre-production on an animated short film and a narrative feature film. She co-produced, directed and starred in a theatrical production of Proof, which ran in San Francisco in January 2020, and she has appeared in countless films, commercials and theatre productions. She is represented by Stars Talent Agency in San Francisco and she is a member of the San Francisco Film Society's Artist Development Program.
In addition to her work as an actor, teacher and filmmaker, Melissa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in counseling psychology and has a decade of experience as a counselor and trainer. She was previously a training manager for the County of Sonoma Human Services Department, and she is an Internationally Certified Career Transition Coach. She has guest taught at California College of the Arts, Academy of Art University and Sonoma Academy, and she is a contract trainer for the County of Sonoma, where she provides Public Speaking and Presentation Skills trainings for the Human Services Department's Emerging Leader Track.