School of Acting Grad Returns to the Academy in 'The Gypsy Machine'

Sean Gunnell plays Patrick in the Pop Up Theatre LA production

Academy of Art University alumnus Sean Gunnell is returning to the place that helped launch his acting career to star in The Gypsy Machine. “I am so excited to be coming back to the Academy to perform in this play,” said Gunnell, who graduated with a B.F.A. from the School of Acting in 2013 and now lives in Los Angeles. “It feels like coming full circle.”

The Gypsy Machine is a thriller written by Meghan Brown and produced by Pop Up Theatre LA. Former MPTV student Grafton Doyle, a classmate of Gunnell’s, is a co-founder of the production company. Pop Up Theatre LA specializes in putting on plays in small, personal spaces such as homes, museums and hotels. 

“People have really been enthralled by these intimate performances,” said Doyle. “The challenge in bringing The Gypsy Machine to the Academy’s 620 Sutter Street Theatre was figuring out how to maintain that feeling in a larger space. To do that, we’re turning the room into what looks like an abandoned warehouse.”

The Gypsy Machine immerses audiences in the world of Molly, her boyfriend Graham and the mysterious Patrick. A year after Molly’s sister Natalie disappears, the couple visits Patrick in his creepy apartment—the last place Natalie was seen—seeking answers to her fate.

“I gravitated towards the role of Patrick because he is an extremely vulnerable man who’s dealt with a lot of struggles and desires in his life,” said Gunnell. “His ultimate need is to be loved. What I love about playing this role is that it’s about looking inside yourself, being vulnerable and figuring out who you share that side of yourself with. This play has been one of the most incredible theatrical experiences in my life.”

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School of Acting alumnus Sean Gunnell. Photo courtesy of Sean Gunnell.

Gunnell credits School of Acting Executive Director Diane Baker, who came to see him in The Gypsy Machine in Los Angeles, for helping to bring the play to 620 Sutter Street Theatre. “Diane has been one of the most influential people throughout my acting history and has always believed in me,” he explained. “When she saw me in the play, she was so happy for me.”

Baker was impressed with both Gunnell’s acting and Doyle’s production of The Gypsy Machine. “I thought it was a very interesting play,” she said. “I wanted to bring it to the school so students could see firsthand how our alumni are getting along.” 

According to Baker, Gunnell was a wonderful student who always showed extra appreciation for the opportunities he received. “Teaching students how to comport themselves in this profession is an important part of the training we provide, and Sean exemplifies that,” she remarked. “He’s approaching his career the right way, with patience, hard work and appreciation.”

In addition to his role in The Gypsy Machine, Gunnell has added a number of other theatre and film credits to his resume since graduating, such as performing as understudy for Mitch in the College of Marin’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He also appeared in the Ross Valley Players’ award-winning version of Journey’s End. And he’s continued to land a variety of acting gigs in Los Angeles. They include a part in Eden of Three, a short film that was featured at several festivals and what he considers one of his most rewarding roles: playing a veteran in a social work program for students training to be therapists who help soldiers re-entering civilian life. Earlier this year, Gunnell achieved a major milestone when he was cast in a key supporting role in his first feature film, a made-for-TV movie called Drone Wars.

Gunnell attributes his success to Baker and the many excellent teachers he trained with at the Academy, including Melissa Gray, Karen Hirst and Damon Sperber.

“I had incredible teachers who challenged students to be the best we could, to grow, and to give ourselves over to trying new things, while still being true to who we are as individuals,” said Gunnell. “I still have notes from my classes that I look over today.” 


The Gypsy Machine will play at 620 Sutter Street Theatre at 8 p.m. on September 23 and 24. Tickets are $5 for Academy students and $30 for the general public. They are available online at