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Minnesota Theater Alliance
December Member Feature
SunsetGun Productions

SunsetGun Productions
Minneapolis, MN

“We are interested in creating work as a way to directly connect with our community” – Candy Simmons, Founder and Artistic Director of SunsetGun Productions 

In 2007, after years of living and working as a performer in New York City, Candy Simmons was frustrated with the lack of performance opportunity and decided to take matters into her own hands. Working in collaboration with playwright Chris Van Strander, Candy created AfterLife, a one-woman show exploring women’s roles in society through the ages. She took the show on the road and toured across the US and Canada receiving great responses from audiences and critics.

This was a turning point in Candy’s career; she decided to start her own company, SunsetGun Productions, and give new meaning to the phrase “one woman show.” As Candy explained, “that experience opened up a whole other way for me to live my artistic life, the opportunity to create and produce my own work, rather than waiting to be cast in someone else’s show.”

Her US tour brought her to Minneapolis for the Fringe Festival and she fell in love with the community and its support for theater and new work. Shortly thereafter, SunsetGun Productions moved its headquarters to Minneapolis in December 2009.

Since relocating, SunsetGun has created and produced two new works for Minnesota audiences. Scarlet Woman, written by Matthew Wells and created in collaboration with SunsetGun, is a two-woman thriller exploring the role of gender and extreme female archetypes integral to the film noir genre. The show premiered to Twin Cities audiences in October 2011, and was remounted at the Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview, MN this past summer.

SunsetGun’s most recent work, Expiration Date, is an original solo performance created and performed by Candy, which tackles issues and attitudes surrounding end-of-life decisions through the story of a young woman struggling with the realities of a terminal diagnosis. Expiration Date made its world premiere at the Old Arizona Theater in Minneapolis in March 2012. Since its debut the work has been remounted in venues as varied as the community room of an assisted living facility and the Landmark Center in St Paul for Hamline University’s Medical Law conference.

Although SunsetGun is based in Minneapolis, all of their productions are designed to tour. Candy explained “financially, it makes sense to tour and artistically, it gives the piece a much longer life – you really get to know a piece and the characters when you perform them for many communities over the span of two years.” SunsetGun sees their work as a “living document,” continuing to workshop the piece as they gather audience response, making it more tour-able and accessible as they go along.

Following each independently produced show, SunsetGun holds a reception to talk with the audience about the issues presented and share stories on a personal basis. Candy shared, “the moments following the performance are the most important to me – having someone share their stories about end of life experiences, or how they relate to the 1950s housewife character in AfterLife, its incredibly gratifying.  That’s where the connection between community and art comes to life.”

Touring has been an overall positive experience for SunsetGun, but as Candy explained, “the economic state many theaters are in, sometimes makes it difficult to get an audience.” Touring requires a lot of administrative work on her end – preparing press kits, conducting outreach, marketing, phone calls, etc.

She also explained that to successfully tour requires creativity and the ability to think outside of the arts community for partners and audience, “that is what I’m doing with Expiration Date; reaching out to the medical community and end-of-life organizations to reach people who are currently facing this reality.”

As is often the case with small, nomadic theater companies, SunsetGun’s greatest challenge is resources – both human and financial. In response to these challenges, they have brought in a strategic development advisor to help with fundraising strategies. With only one full time staff, they have found much benefit in setting budget aside to hire people who specialize in skills, like development and marketing, instead of trying to do it all in house.

Although resources can be a challenge, they have continued to work with and employ many theater artists. Candy explained, “we have kept a small operation; I am the only full time artist, but I curate an artistic team based on the needs of a specific project.”

They continue to be excited to work with other theater makers, and like many small companies, are working towards a sustainable model that will allow for additional artistic and administrative staff. Candy explained, “We would love to grow and be a platform to produce other artist’s work on a more regular basis.” In other words, SunsetGun would love to pay it forward and provide the creative opportunity to other theater artists that Candy created for herself in 2007.

All of SunsetGun’s productions are built to tour and they love to travel! If you’d like to host one of their productions in your community, contact Candy Simmons at sunsetgunproductions@gmail.com for more information. They are currently planning a tour of Expiration Date to hospitals, hospices and other community organizations in the latter half of 2013.

SunsetGun will be premiering their new work, Blueprint, a new one-woman play by Candy Simmons in July. This original work follows the lifecycle of a modern-day American woman as she takes the audience through a step-by-step guide of what it means to be a woman today. Keep an eye on the SunsetGun website for more information, or email Candy to be added to their mailing list.

Visit SunsetGun Productions Website: www.sunsetgunproductions.com

Contact SunsetGun Productions:
Email – sunsetgunproductions@gmail.com;
Phone – 917.929.1379

Want us to share your story? Become a member of the Minnesota Theater Alliance today!
Email Membership Services Manager, Ashley Hanson, for more information: Ashley@minnesotatheateralliance.org

“We see theater as an incredibly powerful tool that can offer a platform for audience and artists to engage in a meaningful dialogue, encouraging all participants to see themselves and the social issues surrounding them a bit more clearly.”
– Candy Simmons, SunsetGun Productions

“We would love to grow and be a platform to produce other artist’s work on a more regular basis.” – Candy Simmons, SunsetGun Productions

Candy Simmons in AfterLife
Photo by Matthew Wells

Katherine Kupiecki in Scarlet Woman
Photo by Chris Garza
Candy Simmons in Expiration Date
Photo by Aaron Fenster
Candy Simmons in Expiration Date
Photo by Aaron Fenster

Candy Simmons in Expiration Date
Photo by Chris Garza

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