Faculty

School Director Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi is a second generation circus performer, a Master Teacher, a pioneering theater artist, and an award-winning choreographer. The Actors Gymnasium faculty hold degrees including Theatre, Dance, Musical Theatre, Kinesiology, Early Childhood Development, Design, Computer Science and Engineering. Their circus credentials stem from training at The Actors Gymnasium, New England Center for Circus Arts, Circus Juventas, and National École de Cirque. They have performed with esteemed circus and theatre companies across the world.

Our teachers have brought their talents to the screen with movie stunts and motion capture work for video games, and include members of Actors Equity Association, SAG AFTRA, and Society of American Fight Directors. They have worked on Tony-award winning shows, earned multiple Jeff Awards, and won silver and gold medals from international circus competitions in Monte Carlo, Germany and Cuba.


Flora-BaresaveforwebFlora Bare is a performance artist and has been living and performing in New York and London for the better part of the last decade, but has now made Chicago home. She is a former USA National Champion collegiate gymnast and nine time All-American from University of California, Davis. Read More


Anna BasileAnna Basile graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in theatre and Italian. At school she served as Artistic Director of her theatre group, WAVE Productions, mentoring directors, organizing an annual Director Festival, and helping to select a new season each year.Read More


Molly BrennanMolly Brennan was named “Chicago’s Queen of Mischief and Mayhem” by American Theatre Magazine. An Actor, Singer and Clown, Molly has performed with Steppenwolf, the Goodman, Lookingglass, Second City, Lyric Opera, the Neo-Futurists, About Face, Red Tape, the Factory Theatre, Lifeline, Barrel of Monkeys, the Kennedy Center, DC, PS122 NYC, and multiple venues across the U.S.Read More


Lucy Carpetyan on SilksLucy Carapetyan is a graduate of Northwestern University, and began as a student at The Actors Gymnasium in 2003. She has been teaching and performing with The Actors Gymnasium since 2006.Read More


David Catlin is a founding ensemble member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company, the recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Catlin is a theatre-maker who acts, writes, directs, and teaches. His work has appeared in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Syracuse, Louisville, and Princeton, New Jersey. Catlin has appeared in, directed, or written & directed over thirty-three productions for Lookingglass. Recent Lookingglass acting credits include Arabian Nights, directed by Mary Zimmerman, and Our Town, directed by Anna Shapiro and Jessica Thebus. Recent directing credits include Black Diamond (co-direction) and Metamorphosis. Recent writing & directing credits include Icarus, Lookingglass Alice, The Little Prince and Moby Dick. Catlin helped found Dark Harbor Stories, a film development company. He was a producer for (and appeared in) the independent film Humanoid. David can also be seen in Since You've Been Gone (Miramax/Film Colony/Lookingglass). He also teaches acting at Northwestern University, and is a frequent director of productions at the School of Communication’s Theatre and Interpretation Center. David Catlin is a founding ensemble member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company, the recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Catlin is a theatre-maker who acts, writes, directs, and teaches. His work has appeared in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Syracuse, Louisville, and Princeton, New Jersey. Catlin has appeared in, directed, or written & directed over thirty-three productions for Lookingglass.Read More


Thom CoxThom Cox is a dedicated arts educator, having taught theatre arts for over twenty years, including his years as a faculty member with The Actors Gym. Currently, he serves Lookingglass’ Education and Community Program as Master Teacher, as well as leading residencies in schools around Chicago. He believes in the power of ensemble participation and creation: each individual having an equal opportunity, value, and voice in the creative process.Read More


Chuck CoylChuck Coyl started teaching stage combat for The Actors Gymnasium in 1997. Recent credits include Fight Direction for: August: Osage County, Superior Donuts, The Crucible (Steppenwolf Theatre), Gas For Less, Magnolia (Goodman Theatre), Private Lives (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), Porgy and Bess, Carmen, Tosca (Lyric Opera of Chicago).Read More


Brian-P-DaileysaveforwebBrian P Dailey plays with traditional juggling objects and party dollar store toys. He approaches each new act or routine with a different set of rules, research and practice. The result is a wide range of absurd, heartfelt and surreal contemporary circus.Read More


Kara Davidson is an actor, puppeteer, and writer with degrees in Theatre Performance and French from the University of Nebraska. In Chicago she has worked with Lookingglass Theatre, The House Theatre of Chicago, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and Manual Cinema (Chicago, NY, LA tours).Read More


Dean Evans is a professional performing artist working in theater and television. He was recently ranked number 33 of Chicago's top 50 "players" of 2014 by New City magazine. He has studied Mime and Physical Theater at The School for Mime Theater, The Ohio State University, and with masters Marcel Marceau, Phillipe Gualier, Stephen Niedzialkowsky, and Avner Eisenberg. He is a former ensemble member of the Neo-Futurists and has performed with 500 Clown, iO, Kapoot Clown Theater, Redmoon, Chicago Children's Theater, Second City, The Goodman, The Actors Gymnasium and extensively as a solo artist. Dean is a faculty member of Columbia College's Comedy Studies program in conjunction with Second City. He also performs as the entity who goes by the name Honey Buns.Dean Evans is a professional performing artist working in theater and television. He was recently ranked number 33 of Chicago’s top 50 “players” of 2014 by New City magazine. He has studied Mime and Physical Theater at The School for Mime Theater, The Ohio State University, and with masters Marcel Marceau, Phillipe Gualier, Stephen Niedzialkowsky, and Avner Eisenberg.Read More


Emily FishkinEmily Fishkin is an actor/writer/artist with degrees in Theatre and English Literature from Northwestern University. She has taken classes with AG since she was 6, going on to perform with the Teen Ensemble from 2008-2012.Read More


Phillip GeorgePhillip George is an actor, who came to Chicago to seek out circus. Before moving to Chicago, he performed with La Petit Theatre Du Vieux Carre of New Orleans and spent his summers serving as the Dance Captain while performing with Tecumseh! Outdoor Drama in Chillicothe, Ohio.Read More


Kurt GowanKurt Gowan is the founder and main instructor of Parkour Ways and Art Du Déplacement Chicago, as well as a stuntman with SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild). He is also A.D.A.P.T. (Art du Déplacement and Parkour Teaching) certified. Stumbling upon some videos online originally inspired Kurt to give Parkour a try.Read More


Sylvia's new headshot resizedSylvia Hernandez-DiStasi, 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.Read More



Jill Heyser on SilksJill Heyser must like to keep her head in the clouds… she is a stilt walker, aerial artist, and teacher with over 10 years experience on a variety of apparatus. Affiliations include The Actors Gymnasium, Aerial Storm, MSA, and Voice of the City. She has studied at the Actors Gymnasium, NECCA, and the Aerial Dance Festival. You may have seen her most recently in Dante’s InfernoSci-Fi CircusCircus in ProgressAn Explosion of a Winter’s Tale, or Vaudeville Roars.


Kasumi Kato‘s aerial dance and circus background lead to her discovery of expression through arts and theater. From a young age she has hammed it up and poured it on thick for laughs and laments. She began in youth and community circuses starting at age four, and began performing professionally at the age of eighteen.Read More


Elizabeth Luse started dancing at The School of Performing Arts in Orlando, Florida, and continued her dance education at Indiana University where she studied with Violette Verdy, Guoping Wang, and Leslie Peck. Professionally, Elizabeth has danced with Winifred Haun and Dancers, Nomi Dance Company, Dance in the Parks, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her guest appearances include Ballet Quad Cities, Madison Ballet, and Ron de Jesus Dance and she currently works as a guest artist with Emily Stein. Elizabeth has taught for Visceral Dance Center and is on faculty at the Joffrey Academy of Chicago.Elizabeth Luse started dancing at The School of Performing Arts in Orlando, Florida, and continued her dance education at Indiana University where she studied with Violette Verdy, Guoping Wang, and Leslie Peck. Professionally, Elizabeth has danced with Winifred Haun and Dancers, Nomi Dance Company, Dance in the Parks, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.Read More


Marc Macaranas graduated cum laude from the University of California, Irvine. Since 2006, he has performed in Chicago, across the US and abroad with Lucky Plush Productions, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, The Seldoms, DanceWorks Chicago, RUBBERBANDance Group, and Luna Negra Dance Theater. He presents his solo work as The Visitor(s) and is resident choreographer with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre. His choreography has been presented at Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival, Poonie’s Cabaret, THAW, Dance Chance Redux, Dance Chicago and Duets for My Valentine.Marc Macaranas graduated cum laude from the University of California, Irvine. Since 2006, he has performed in Chicago, across the US and abroad with Lucky Plush Productions, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, The Seldoms, DanceWorks Chicago, RUBBERBANDance Group, and Luna Negra Dance Theater. He presents his solo work as The Visitor(s) and is resident choreographer with Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre.Read More


Mandi MartensMandi Martens (formerly Michalski) has been teaching at The Actors Gymnasium since 2001. That same year, she received her degree in Dance from Northwestern University. Mandi has been seen onstage at The Actors Gymnasium in Neverwhere: A Circus Underground, and The Tangerine Family Circus. Other credits include Galileo Galilei (Goodman) and The Eleven Rooms of Proust (Lookingglass/About Face). Nowadays, Mandi spends most of her evenings at home with her husband and cats.


Chris MathewsChris Mathews is a company member with The House Theatre of Chicago where he performs, writes, and does any little thing in between. With Jake Minton and Nathan Allen, he has written Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe (Jeff Nomination, New Play), The Sparrow (Jeff Award, New Play), and Rose and the Rime.Read More


Nourbol Meirmanov is a professional acrobat who has performed and coached circus arts for over 20 years. He graduated from the world famous Moscow Circus School with a Master of Sport in several disciplines. He came to the United States to perform with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, performing extensively with both the Red and Blue units. The founder of MSA & Circus Arts, Nourbol has been a leading Sports Acrobatics & Circus Arts trainer throughout the Chicago area, working with many local circus groups including The Actors Gymnasium and the Midnight Circus.Nourbol Meirmanov is a professional acrobat who has performed and coached circus arts for over 20 years. He graduated from the world famous Moscow Circus School with a Master of Sport in several disciplines. He came to the United States to perform with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, performing extensively with both the Red and Blue units. The founder of MSA & Circus Arts, Nourbol has been a leading Sports Acrobatics & Circus Arts trainer throughout the Chicago area, working with many local circus groups including The Actors Gymnasium and the Midnight Circus.


Caryn OttCaryn Ott is a stage director and choreographer. She started teaching for kids in Milwaukee, WI at First Stage Theater and continued her love of the classroom to Emerald City Theater, Light Opera Works, Chicago Opera Theater and other schools throughout Chicago. She started dancing at the age of three.Read More


Tommy-Rapley.pngsaveforweTommy Rapley is a proud Company Member with The House Theatre of Chicago where he has choreographed over 20 world-premiere productions including The Sparrow (Jeff Award), Cave With Man (Jeff Award), The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan, The Valentine Trilogy, and Death and Harry Houdini. Directing credits for The House include: The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, DORIAN and their critically acclaimed productions of The Nutcracker.Read More


JULIA RHOADS is the founding Artistic Director of Lucky Plush Productions. She has created over 25 works with the company, several of which have toured extensively throughout the US. Other choreography credits include Lookingglass Theatre’s The Great Fire, Walkabout Theater’s Mama: A Play for Voices, Redmoon’s Project Y, and River North Chicago Dance Company’s Oasis and Between Three, among others. She is a former member of the San Francisco Ballet and ensemble member of XSIGHT! Performance Group. Julia is the recipient of the 2013 Alpert Award in Dance, a fellowship from the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award, a Cliff Dwellers Choreography Award, two Illinois Arts Council Fellowships for Choreography, a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, and a 2014 Fractured Atlas Arts Entrepreneurship Award for her work with Creative Partners. Her work for Lucky Plush has received numerous national awards from the NEA, National Dance Project, and National Performance Network, among others. She received her BA in History from Northwestern University, her MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute Chicago, and she has taught in the dance and theater programs of several Chicago-area colleges and universities. She is currently a Lecturer and Dance Advisor at University of Chicago's department of Theater and Performance Studies.Julia Rhoads is the founding Artistic Director of Lucky Plush Productions. She has created over 25 works with the company, several of which have toured extensively throughout the US. Other choreography credits include Lookingglass Theatre’s The Great Fire, Walkabout Theater’s Mama: A Play for Voices, Redmoon’s Project Y, and River North Dance Company’s Oasis and Between Three. Julia has been named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” and was three times included New City Chicago’s “Top 50 Players.”Read More


Michel Rodriguez Cintra was born in Havana, and is a former member of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Hedwig Dances. Choreography credits include 3 works for Hedwig, one of which was a finalist in the A.W.A.R.D Show 2010. He has also created a work for Columbia College Chicago’s faculty concert, where he is adjunct faculty. Michel was named one of “The Men of 2010” by Time Out Chicago, and he is the recipient of the 2013 3Arts Award in Dance. In addition to being an ensemble member of Lucky Plush Productions, current projects include CDI/Concert Dance and The Nexus Project with Ben Wardell, which was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2014.Michel Rodriguez Cintra was born in Havana, and is a former member of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Hedwig Dances. Choreography credits include 3 works for Hedwig, one of which was a finalist in the A.W.A.R.D Show 2010. He has also created a work for Columbia College Chicago’s faculty concert, where he is adjunct faculty.Read More


pro-track-portraits-73.pngsaveforwebSymphony Sanders graduated from Bradley University with a degree in Theatre Performance and has been a professional actor in Chicago since 2003. As a dancer and gymnast she always loved to express herself through movement; creating a narrative instead of just executing tricks.Read More


Cassandra SchianoCassandra Schiano is an actor and aerialist in the Chicagoland area. She received her BA in Theatre Arts from The University of Iowa and continued her training at the Stella Adler Studio in New York City. A long time lover of all things circus, she began her studies at Aloft Loft and is a proud graduate of Actors Gymnasium’s Professional Circus Training Program.Read More


Richard Schiraldi Richie Schiraldi is a man of many hats, with a BFA in Physical Theater from Accademia dell’Arte, in conjunction with Coastal Caroline University. Such hats include those of an actor, clown, technician, and teacher. He specializes in Clown, physical comedy and character work, Comedia, escaping from a straight-jacket, and performed stunts and stage combat as a knight for two years with Medieval Times.Read More


William Shaw is a recent graduate from Illinois State University where he studied Anthropology with a focus in Culture. In 2008 he began teaching and studying circus arts under a work-study scholarship at a pre-professional circus school, where he primarily focused in acrobatics.Read More


Ashley SylvesterAshley Marie Sylvester (Sylvi) is a recent 2016 graduate from the Actors Gym Professional Circus Training Program. She received her Hula Hoop Teacher’s Certification from Hoopnotica in 2013, and ever since she has been teaching general circus skills to after school programs and summer camps. Being primarily a ground performer, in 2014 she decided to add on aerial arts and has been training at Actors Gym ever since. She is currently a full time circus performer and teacher.


Alex Tey is a Chicago-based actor, director, and teaching artist. Alex is the founding Artistic Director of Thirteen O’Clock Theatre, and an instructor here in Evanston with Actors Gymnasium and Mudlark Theatre Company. He has worked nationally with Sojourn Theatre, most recently as a performer/facilitator in the professional premiere of HOW TO END POVERTY in collaboration with Portland Playhouse.Read More


Tommy Tomlins performing on aerial silks at the Lookingglass Theatre Mad Hatters Ball galaTommy Tomlins has been performing circus arts for over half her life.  From taking part in circus summer camp shows at age 10 to performing in repeat productions of Lookingglass Theatre Co.’s Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale, in 2008 and 2010 respectively, she always knew that circus arts held a special place in her heart.  Read More



Krystyn TsagarakisKrystyn Tsagarakis has been teaching empowerment and confidence to students of all levels and ages since 2010. She believes that aerial and circus arts are for everyone. Her introduction to dance began through ballet at the age of three. Her background includes five years of competitive gymnastics, seven years of performance art, and thirteen years of visual art.Read More


Javen UlambayarJaven Ulambayar graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2012 earning a degree in Kinesiology with emphasis on clinical movement and science. During his high school and college years, he attended the circus school Juventas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. There he attained his skills in a variety of performing acts including tumbling, teeterboard, jump rope, acro and Russian bar.Read More



Lindsey Noel WhitingLindsey Noel Whiting is an actor, educator and acrobat with ten years of professional experience. Locally, she has performed with Lookingglass Theatre, Victory Gardens, and Redmoon Theatre as well as The Actors Gymnasium. Her regional theatre experience includes Actors Theatre of Louisville, Syracuse Stage and the Alliance Theatre.Read More


MEGHANN WILKINSON is in her 11th season as an ensemble member with Lucky Plush Productions. She is a former company member of Mordine and Company, and has performed with Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts, Cie Felix Ruckert, Raizel Performances, and Peter Carpenter Performance Project. Meghann has been a guest teacher and choreographer for Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Cecchetti Council of America, and Evanston Dance Ensemble. She was Assistant Choreographer for Lookingglass Theatre’s The Great Fire and movement director for Walkabout Theater's Crow. Meghann has organized for the Chicago Seminar on Dance and Performance and the Society of Dance History Scholars. She has taught at Northwestern University, Dance Center Evanston, and Visceral Dance Chicago, and is currently on faculty in the theater and dance programs at Columbia College Chicago. Meghann Wilkinson is in her 11th season as an ensemble member with Lucky Plush Productions. She is a former company member of Mordine and Company, and has performed with Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts, Cie Felix Ruckert, Raizel Performances, and Peter Carpenter Performance Project. Meghann has been a guest teacher and choreographer for Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, Cecchetti Council of America, and Evanston Dance Ensemble.Read More


Oyunchimeg “Oyuna” YadamjavOyunchimeg “Oyuna” Yadamjav is one of Mongolia’s premier contortionists with over 25 years of experience, performing internationally with the world-renowned Mongolian National Circus. She has won “SILVER CLOWN” at the global circus competition in Monte-Carlo (Presidency of the H.S.H. Prince Ranier III de Monaco) and gold medals at international circus competitions in Germany and Cuba. Oyuna is currently teaching for the Mongolian Children’s Performing Arts.


Jen HeadshotJennifer Zumann has been dedicated to the field of Pilates and movement education since attending her first class in 1995. Along side her Pilates education, Jennifer pursued education in yoga, Japanese acupressure, medicinal herbalism, and Chinese diagnostics.Read More

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  1. […] Mikhail Fiksel (sound design, original music), Shawn Sagady (projection design, video design), Chuck Coyl (fight choreography), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Joseph Drummond, Alden Vasquez (stage […]