Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi – Artistic Director, Co-Founder, Master Teacher
Sylvia, recently returned from a successful tour of Lookingglass Alice, is a second generation circus performer who grew up touring with various circuses, including Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She also performed at The Circus World Championships in London, England. In 1990 she moved to Chicago and began her career as a circus teacher and choreographer. Sylvia is a co-founder of The Actors Gymnasium and an Artistic Associate of The Lookingglass Theatre Company. Other theater credits include The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theater, Marriott Theater, and The Steppenwolf Theatre, among others. She recently won the Illinois Theatre Association’s Award of Honor, the 3Arts award for design, and she has been nominated for six Joseph Jefferson Awards for her choreography, winning five.
Virginia is an arts and culture specialist with 25 years experience. She literally “grew up” in theatre in her native Australia; napping in the dressing room and running lines over the kitchen table, which led to a production career primarily in opera and musicals. Since moving to the U.S. in 1999, she has worked with Pittsburgh Opera, History Theatre, Grace Minnesota/Wishes for the Sky, Minnesota Dance Theatre & the Dance Institute, the Jazz Institute of Chicago and most recently at Chicago Dramatists as Development Director and Interim Managing Director. Virginia’s community engagement includes chairing arts committees for the City of St. Paul, serving on the St. Paul Rotary Club board of directors, reviewing grant applications, developing the Twin Cities’ IVEY theatre awards, and representing the Twin Cities at the Performing Arts Research Coalition.
Catherine Allen – Production Manager
Catherine is a freelance production manager who has worked in and around Chicago for the last five years. She first joined the Actors Gymnasium as the production manager for the 2017 Winter Circus, Quest. Other production management credits include work with Steep Theatre, Griffin Theatre, Route 66 Theatre Company, Congo Square Theatre, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Pegasus Theatre Chicago, Haven Theatre, Chimera Ensemble, A Red Orchid Theatre Youth Ensemble, Pine Box Theater Company, and Step Up Productions, where she was an Artistic Associate and resident production manager. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she received a BFA in Acting.
Lucy has been a student, and eventually teacher and performer with Actors Gymnasium since 2003. She joined the staff in June 2015 and is excited to bring circus to even more Chicagoans as Special Events Manager. As a circus teacher and performer she has worked with youth all over Chicagoland, and performed for private parties, corporate events, and everything in between. As an actor she has worked with over a dozen theatres around Chicago, including Steppenwolf, Northlight, The House Theatre, Griffin, Lifeline, and is a company member with Steep Theatre and Two Pence Theatre Company.
Nikolay Chaplygin – Staff Accountant
Nikolay began with The Actors Gymnasium in August of 2014. He has 20 years of experience working in the accounting sector, beginning in Russia and continuing in the U.S. where he has lived for the last 17 years. His experience includes both working at for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Nikolay holds a B.S. in Accounting which he received in 1994 from the Novosibirsk State University, Russia. He manages all aspects of accounting including accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll. He is excited to be part of the team that is dedicated to bringing a new physicality to the American Theatre and encouraging ground-breaking theatrical exploration.
Scott joined The Actors Gymnasium in 2015. He is a physical theatre and circus artist working as a director, deviser, choreographer, and educator. Outside of Chicago his works have been seen in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and London. Locally he has collaborated with The Actors Gymnasium, Theater Unspeakable, Filament Theater, Mudlark Theater, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, American Theater Company, and Imaginez Ensemble. He holds a Master’s degree from Royal Holloway, University of London and a Black Belt in traditional martial arts from the ISKA.
Michelle Higgins – Marketing Manager
Michelle joined The Actors Gymnasium in September of 2012. Her ten years of previous experience in marketing and film includes her former role as the Director of Database & Information Traffic at CNGM Pictures, NFP and Marketing Director for Glass City Films. She is also nationally ranked in Forensics at the 2005 Phi Rho Pi in the Poetry Division. She is happy to have found a job that combines her previous experience with non profits and business with her love of the arts.
Since 1996, Amanda Kulczewski has worked for a myriad of local, national and international performing arts institutions in almost every production-related capacity—sans actually performing. She hung up her tool belt and her mop in 2007 when she fell in love with arts administration, and has passionately worked and advocated to make cultural & artistic organizations self-sustaining through smart financial management and the creation of high performing organizational cultures. Amanda is the Finance Director at The House Theatre of Chicago and the Executive Director at Piccolo Theatre, Inc. She knits continental, enjoys reading works of fiction on her lunch breaks, is an avid hammock camper, and is happiest spending Sundays on the couch watching football with her husband, son and 2 pound puppies.
John joined the Actors Gymnasium in August of 2016. Originally from Boston, he moved to Chicago to study theatre at Northwestern, concentrating in acting and theatre management. After graduation, he started a freelance business providing home tech support and consulting. John is excited to be working in a position that combines his technical and creative interests and is thrilled to have found a home in Chicago’s circus community!
Deanna is an actor, educator and theatre-maker who is proud to be a part of Chicago’s community of artists. As an educator, Deanna has worked with Barrel of Monkeys and Catharsis Productions, and is most passionate about projects with a focus on social justice and inclusion. As a performer, she has been seen on a wide variety of stages around Chicago including The House Theatre, Steppenwolf, Redmoon, The Goodman, Lifeline and The Waltzing Mechanics. Deanna is incredibly excited to join the staff at The Actors Gymnasium, and can’t wait to continue nurturing her love of theatre and education with the wonderful people here.
Isaac is a multitalented theatre artist, specializing in the safe rigging of performers and objects. He is often seen working on projects around the Gym, or rigging for their shows and offsite special events. Isaac is also a rigger at Lookingglass Theatre, and won a Jeff Award in 2015 for his rigging design for Moby Dick, which was a co-production between Lookingglass and Actors Gym. Past Lookingglass rigging credits include Peter Pan: A Play, Cascabel, Eastland: A New Musical, Big Lake Big City, The Little Prince, and Lookingglass Alice. Besides making people and things fly, he is an accomplished theatre carpenter, actor, and director around Chicago. Some of his favorites are working with the Backroom Shakespeare Project, and each fall coordinating the Freshman Drama Workshop at Valparaiso University, where he received his B.A. in Theatre and Humanities. www.valpo.edu/christcollege/academics/production/
Cole Simon has been creating theatre, film, and photography in Chicago since 2009. He has taught, directed, written, performed, and shot with the Actors Gymnasium since 2010, as well as with companies such as The Goodman Theatre, The House Theatre, The Haven Theatre, and Lakeside Shakespeare, among others. When not among these companies, he freelances around the Midwest, and runs his production company, Glass City Films.