Sandy Reed Endowed fund honors its namesake

During his time at USC, Reed participated in musicals and theatrical plays such as “Into the Woods” and “Most Happy Fella.” (Photo courtesy of School of Dramatic Arts archive)

USC alumnus Sandy Reed’s mother Catharine Reed, the vice president of Charitable Programs at H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation and the School of Dramatic Arts recently created the Sandy Reed Endowed Professional Development Fund in honor of his memory. 

It was a Friday in November 2014, right after the first Chekov class of the fall semester, when Sandy emailed Mary Joan Negro, associate professor of theater practice at the School of Dramatic Arts. In his email, Sandy expressed his excitement about Chekov’s dimensional characters, such as Astrov.

“I really want to grow older and have great compassion for the world just as Astrov does. I think we all have it when we are young but lose it as we get older,” Sandy wrote in the email. 

Sandy died in an accident last June, but he was the one who initiated this fund a few years ago. SDA received $250,000 from family foundations to provide opportunities and support to students at the beginning of their artistic careers.  

Sandy laid the foundation for this endowment right after he graduated from USC and told his mother that he wanted to help current SDA students and alumni. 

“He was so philanthropic in his heart,” Catharine said. “A super big heart, probably the best friend anybody ever had.” 

Sandy began working more actively on the professional fund during the pandemic. He aimed to help people who needed transportation, headshots, networking, mentoring and other startup tools that would support their careers. 

“There was an energy of generosity, of exuberance, of joy, of sometimes just that passionate eagerness to ‘I can’t get it, I want to get it,’” Negro said.

Sandy was born in 1994 in Glendora, Calif. and grew up in Palm Springs with his mother, his sister Katie Reed, who was his “soundboard and best friend,” and his cat Jack, his mother said. He always wanted to be an actor, and he would dress up his cat for all of his home skits. There was no backup plan, his mother said. As a child, he would always sing and dance, and he performed at a community theater up until he went to college. 

Sandy was accepted to both USC schools of Dramatic Arts and Cinematic Arts and enhanced his path as an actor with summer programs. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he went to Rada in London and acted in productions by playwrights such as William Shakespeare. As he was about to enter his senior year, he studied acting at Stella Adler in New York, his mother said. 

“New York. New York. NEW YORK! This place seems unreal for the fact that I can walk to three parks within two miles of me,” Sandy wrote in an email to Negro on June 23, 2015. “When passing others, I still look at people in the eyes, still smile, or still exchange a simple, ‘hi’. It is okay if it is not returned but when it is there is a warmness that is felt and it makes me feel great. I’m happy. That is all that counts.”

Sandy also appeared in musicals and theatrical plays while at USC, such as “You Can’t Take it With You” and “Into the Woods.” During the spring musical “Most Happy Fella” and at one of the rehearsals, Sandy walked up to USC alumna Adrienne Visnic,  one of the leads in the play, and told her they were going to be friends. 

“Truly, I can say that that’s like one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever had in my life, just being part of [Sandy’s] world,” Visnic said. “There’s really not one single word to describe him … they say, ‘People light up a room, and they walk in,’ and he was exactly that, maybe even a little bit more. He led with his curiosity; he cared about his community.” 

Sandy also studied voice speech into dialects with Associate Professor of voice and movement studies Kathleen Dunn-Muzingo. Dunn-Muzingo said that even though she coached him in a couple of USC plays, he still kept in touch after he graduated and also helped him with auditions. 

“[Sandy] was just an exceptional artist and human being, and appreciated what he learned at USC and wanted to pay it forward to the students that graduated, knowing that actors, after exiting the program, feel a sense of loss,” Dunn-Muzingo said.

Sandy went on a journey to Europe right after he graduated for about six weeks, where he created the documentary “This is for You, Older Sandy.” It was picked up and showcased at the Palm Springs Festival, his mother said. 

After Sandy returned from his trip to Europe, he lived in North Hollywood and worked as a waiter as he pursued an acting career. Although he made an appearance in “Doctor Dolittle” and was featured in CPP productions of “Pinocchio,” “Cinderella,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Beauty and the Beast” and more, according to his obituary, Sandy struggled to get the roles he wanted, his mother said. 

Determined to live his dream, Sandy moved to Atlanta, where he found more work as an actor. 

“I MOVED!!! It happened,” Sandy wrote in an email on Feb. 3, 2019, to Negro. “It’s challenging. I know no one. And it’s a chance to develop new habits. Create a deeper understanding of acting and myself. And altogether to find a deeper place within my heart for self-love.”   

Nearly a year later, in March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation, and Sandy decided to move back home to Palm Springs, where he would spend more time with his family.

Following his death that summer, besides family and friends, Sandy left behind his acting career with a recent Popeyes commercial and an upcoming short film “Forgive Us,” as well as the Sandy Reed Professional Endowment fund. The fund today is ready to begin supporting upcoming artists with more professional development opportunities, such as casting workshops, alumni mentorship programs and networking events, USC director of development Kim Muhlbach said.  

“[Sandy] was like a magnetic, passionate, kind, loving student,” Muhlbach said. “He was a really well-known student among the student population, just because he was just so engaged in the community and also so charismatic and kind and loving.”  

For the future, this fund will help professional development programming each year at SDA. Many students and young alumni will be able to benefit from this fund, and as an endowment, is meant to live forever, Muhlbach said.  

“I’ll leave you with this,” Sandy wrote in an email to Negro on Feb. 3, 2019. “This is a quote from a Georgian artist, who was part of an art project for the Super Bowl showcasing civil issues and successes from Atlanta leaders: 

‘Art is the heartbeat to humanity. There is no socioeconomic divide in art. All is equal.’”