Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (She/Her) – Artistic Director, Co-Founder, Master Teacher
Sylvia is Artistic Director of The Actors Gymnasium. She also serves as master teacher and director of The Professional Circus Training Program and is also a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Department of Movement. Sylvia is a second generation circus performer who grew up touring with various circuses, including Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey. In 2019, she and her family, The Hernandez Troupe, will be inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame for their monumental contributions to the world of circus. Sylvia has been an Artistic Associate of the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company since 1999, where she has worked on 21 productions. She has received 4 Joseph Jefferson Awards for her work with Lookingglass (Lookingglass Alice, Hard Times, Baron in the Trees) and Marriott Theatre (All Night Strut), and a total of 5 Joseph Jefferson nominations. In 2018, she won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and a Robby Award, both for designing the acrobatic/aerial choreography of the South Coast Repertory staging of Moby Dick. Other theater credits include The Lyric Opera, Writer’s Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Children’s Theater and The Goodman. Sylvia is the recipient of The 3Arts Award for Design (2014), and also received an Award of Honor for Outstanding Contributions by The Illinois Theater Association.
Murphy Monroe (He/Him) – Executive Director
Murphy comes to Actors Gym with deep experience in both the arts and education. He started his career as the co-founder of a theater company in Boston before finding a passion for education. He spent more than 15 years with Columbia College Chicago leading admissions and enrollment, where his responsibilities also included developing, marketing and funding educational programs, after school initiatives and camps for both youth and adults. Most recently, Murphy was general manager and vice president of Helix Education. Murphy holds both a BFA in acting and an MS in non-profit management. He knows Evanston well, having grown up attending Piven and Next Theaters right here in the Noyes Cultural Center, and he and his family live in Evanston.
Catherine Allen (She/Her) – 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 Carapetyan (She/Her) – Special Events Manager
Lucy began as a student at AG in 2003, and has been a teacher and events performer for over 10 years. She joined the staff in June 2015 and is glad for the chance to bring Circus to more Chicagoans through Special Events Entertainment. As a circus and theatre teacher she has worked with youth and adults all over Chicagoland. As an actor she has worked with over a dozen theatres around Chicago, including Steppenwolf, Northlight, The House Theatre, Griffin, Lifeline, and Steep Theatre, where she is a company member.
Nikolay Chaplygin (He/Him) – Accounting Manager
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 Dare (He/Him) – Education Manager
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.
John MacGaffey (He/Him) – Marketing & Operations Manager
John joined the Actors Gymnasium in August of 2016 as our Office Coordinator. 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 doing web design and home tech support. He recently performed a trick fiddling routine on ABC’s The Gong Show. 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 part of Chicago’s community of artists. As an educator, Deanna has worked with Catharsis Productions and is currently a Company Member with Barrel of Monkeys. She is most passionate about projects with a focus on social justice, inclusion, and the development of arts integrative curriculum.
As a performer, she has been seen on a wide variety of stages around Chicago including Redmoon, Writers Theatre, The Goodman, and The Hypocrites where she is part of the Artistic Ensemble.
Deanna can be found regularly climbing the variety of apparatuses in the gym on her breaks, spending time with her French Bulldog Dottie, or cooking, baking and eating copious amounts of food.
Jack Olin (He/Him) – Finance & Accounts Associate
Jack Olin is an actor and circus artist who made it to Chicago by way of Colorado and North Dakota. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2016, where he studied theatre and economics (both at the home campus and in Qatar).
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/christ-college/traditions/freshman-production/
Topher Soltys (He/Him) – Finance Manager
Topher began practicing circus arts at Oberlin College as part of their student circus. After moving to Chicago, he started taking classes at Actors Gym to help him stay fit in a fun and challenging atmosphere. In his time with Actors Gym, he served on the Board and the Finance Committee before becoming the gym’s Finance Manager. He has also worked with Writers Theatre, Remy Bumppo, Collaboration, and The House Theatre. He is currently studying for his MBA at Kellogg School of Management and working as a Financial Analyst at CareerBuilder.
Erica Vannon (She/Her) – Grant Manager
Erica Vannon is a director, producer, and movement designer. Her directing credits include work with Collaboraction, The Poetry Foundation, Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Twenty Percent Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre, Shimer College, Governors State University, and Chicago Fringe Festival. Erica served as Co-Founder of Knife & Fork, a theatre company dedicated to social practice around food, feminism, and body politics. She also served as Co-Artistic Director of Blank Line Collective, a physical theatre company based in Chicago until 2010.
Erica is currently pursuing an MFA in Directing from The University of Iowa. She holds a BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Directing from the University of North Texas and a Graduate Laban Certificate of Movement Analysis (GL-CMA) from Columbia College Chicago.
Lindsey Noel Whiting (She/Her) – Pro Training Program Manager
In addition to managing the Pro-Training Program, Lindsey is also an Associate Artist. Her relationship with the gym began in 2004 as an adult student. Since then, she has performed in a number of shows at the gym, worked as a teaching artist, and Co-Directed a Winter Circus. She regularly works with Lookingglass Theater – where she is an Artistic Associate – and has also performed with Victory Gardens, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Syracuse Stage, The Alliance Theatre, Redmoon Theatre, and Chicago Children’s Theatre. She is married to a very nice man named Samuel Taylor and they have a very nice cat.
Cole Simon (He/Him) – Photographer & Videographer
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.
Joe Taylor (He/Him) – Artist & Graphic Designer
Check out Joe’s work!