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 a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Department of Theatre. 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, were inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame for their monumental contributions to the world of circus. Sylvia is an ensemble member of the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company since 1999, where she has worked on over 20 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.
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.
Madie Doppelt (She/Her) – Youth Programs Manager
Madie Doppelt is a theater and circus artist based in Chicago. She’s a recent graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University, as well as an alum of Actors Gym’s beloved Teen Ensemble.
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 was most recently seen doing a trick fiddling routine on season 2 of 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! www.johnmacgaffey.com
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/
Erica Barnes (She/Her) – Grant Manager
Erica Barnes 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.
Danielle Gennaoui (She/Her) – Pro Training Program Manager
Since she was a little tater tot in St. Louis, MO, Danielle Gennaoui loved to direct plays in her parents’ basement, climb every tree in sight, and spin around in circles until she fell over. Fortunately, not much has changed (though the falling over is fewer and further between).
Danielle began training at the Actors Gymnasium in 2008 and immediately fell in love with Circus. Danielle specializes in theatre, aerial arts, and partner acrobatics. Danielle graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Theatre directing and performance from the Jordan College of Fine Arts at Butler University and is a graduate of Aloft Circus Arts Full-Time Training Program (Major: Lyra).
In addition to working with Actors Gym, Danielle has been especially fortunate to perform, coach, and create with: Aloft Circus Arts, Circus Harmony, Chicago Center for Dynamic Circus, CircEsteem, MSA & Circus Arts, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Gravity Aerial Arts, Thodos Dance Chicago, Apple Tree Theatre, Sussurus Performance Group, and The Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. DanielleGennaoui.com
Joe Taylor (He/Him) – Artist & Graphic Designer
Check out Joe’s work!