When a professor’s phone rings during class, it can be a moment of vindication for students who are often reminded to turn off their phones. When Nat Reed, instructor for the puppetry class, heard “The Muppet Show” theme song come from his phone mid-class, no one was surprised by his ringtone choice.
Nat, the man behind the ringtone, has made a living constructing puppets and designing theater sets. Before moving to Utah, he worked in films and on stage in Los Angeles for nearly a decade. He also worked for Mattel designing toys and at Jim Henson’s Creature shop designing puppets. Now he works for the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem as a technical director and at BYU teaching set construction and puppetry.
This semester there are 11 students enrolled in TMA 252, a class providing hands-on experience building and operating puppets. The course work is straightforward — over the course of the semester the students are expected to build four different puppets, each with a specific purpose. Currently, the students are preparing puppets for a parade the class will perform in Brigham Square on Thursday during the break before the the 9 a.m. classes.
Katie Jarvis, a 20-year-old theater major from Grants Pass, Ore., is one of the few students enrolled in the class. Jarvis said puppetry is her favorite class this semester and looks forward to “craft therapy with Nat,” as she calls it.
“He really creates an environment where you can come up with creative ideas,” Jarvis said. “I don’t think I would be half as creative as I am if it wasn’t for Nat.”
The saying goes that behind every good man, there’s a great woman; and that saying holds true for Nat. His wife, Jennifer Reed, is just as involved with the arts and has a resume comparable to her husband’s. Jennifer teaches stage management at BYU and works as the production manager for the Theatre and Media Arts Department, overseeing every production except the musicals. Before she worked at BYU, Jennifer spent years working as a company manager for a production company on the fast track to Broadway.
Nat and Jennifer met while working for the same production company in Virginia. Soon after, they were married and began collaborating with each other professionally. Sixteen years of marriage later they speculate they have worked together on more than 50 productions in addition to raising three daughters. They decided to move to Utah to raise their family, but still wanted to stay involved in the arts.
They said their passion for theater and their commitment to their family fuels their work and gives them balance in their life.
“I found a happy medium,” Nat said. “I don’t work 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. like I did. We have a family now and all of our kids are involved as well. We’re a theater family.”
Addressing the stigma with the arts and theater, that it isn’t possible to make a living and support a family, Nat points out if someone is working in theater for the money they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Again and again, Nat and Jennifer pointed out the passion necessary for their work and excitement to be involved with theater. Like any family, they have their difficulties, but the Reeds said they have found a way to make it work, and they don’t think it’s possible for them only.
“You can work in theater and have a successful family,” Jennifer said. “I really believe you can, but it’s just like anything — you have to work at it, you have to make sacrifices and you have to have flexibility.”