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 the 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 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Flora graduated with an MFA in Lecoq-based physical theater from the ‘London International School of Performing Arts’ (LISPA). She has also received extensive training in: Commedia, from the ‘Accademia dell’Arte’ in Arezzo, Italy; Viewpoints and Suzuki with Anne Bogart and the ‘SITI Company’ and Tango in Montevideo, Uruguay. Flora has also trained and taught at ‘The Circus Space’ in London. Flora is currently a member and artistic consultant for Theater Unspeakable and is performing with Silent Theatre. When not devising and performing in theater, Flora spends her time singing and songwriting.[/read]
Molly 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]She has taught Clown, Devising and Physical Theatre at DePaul, UIC, Northwestern, Columbia, Opera-Matic, Steppenwolf, University of Chicago, the Neo-Futurists, and various institutions nationwide. She contributes work to Salonathon, the Paper Machete, the Moth, You’re Being Ridiculous, the Fly Honey Show, and other performance events. Co-founder of CLQWN MUTINY, Company Member of 500 Clown, and co-creator of the Madam Barker Show, Molly is a strong advocate for building one’s own work in addition to working with established venues. She is thrilled to share her love of falling down, putting on silly hats, and talking in funny voices with the students of the Actors Gymnasium. [/read]
Lucy 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]As an actor she has worked with over a dozen theatre companies around Chicago, and currently serves as the Director of Education for Two Pence Theatre Company.[/read]
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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Recent Lookingglass acting credits include Arabian Nights, directed by Mary Zimmerman, and Our Town, directed byE 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.[/read]
Thom 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Thom is a founding ensemble member of Lookingglass Theatre and was a faculty member with the Actors Gym from early on, as a drama teacher for early Summer Camps as well as creating and teaching the Imaginastics classes. Thom worked with Sylvia to create the Circus Theatre Performance Project, a program for young and teen students to use circus skills and choreography to adapt stories into original circus-theatre performance pieces; the CTPP was an early precursor to the Teen Ensemble and Youth Circus programming. As an actor, Thom has performed with Lookingglass and many other theatres regionally, including Court, Northlight, Goodman, Steppenwolf, House, and Milwaukee Rep. Some of his favorite physical/circus performances have been The Master and Margarita (Sylvia’s first Lookingglass production, for which Thom worked on trapeze, teeterboard, and harness skills), The Old Curiosity Shop (for which Thom created a villainous character who spent the entire play in plie), one of four Chorus in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando at Court Theatre, and Hook in Peter Pan (a play) (including multiple sword fights choreographed on moving platforms and ladders). Thom has understudied Lookingglass Alice several times since 2005, performing three different tracks (Dodgson/White Knight, Red Queen/Dormouse, and Mad Hatter/Humpty), making him the actor who has performed the most tracks for the fewest performances in that show.[/read]
Chuck 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Broadway credits include the Tony Award winning production of August: Osage County. Internationally he has staged fights for productions at the National Theatre, London and the Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney, Australia. Film and Television credits include stunt work on Moments in Time, Murder in Greenwich and Eyeborgs.[/read]
Amanda Crockett has been passionate about laughter since she started clowning alongside her father at age 9. She created and performed a principal character and hat juggling role for Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE, won an Audience Choice Award at the Krystallpalast in Germany and has been called a “virtuoso” by clown luminary Avner the Eccentric. [read more=”Read More” less=”Read Less”] After training at Circus Smirkus and the Celebration Barn Theater, Crockett graduated from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater and went on to study circus in Australia, Chicago and San Francisco. After 25 of years of experience onstage, she is most well-known for her uniquely skilled and hilarious fusions of comedy, trapeze, mime and hat juggling that have made audiences around the world fall in love with her.
In addition to performing, Crockett has coached circus and physical theater around the US and South America since 1999, and has taught locally at Second City, Actors Gymnasium, Aloft, CircEsteem, and as an artist in residence at Kendall Elementary. In 2015, she was Program Director of Aloft’s Full Time Training Program and became Creative Consultant for Circus Flora in St. Louis. She is a NASM certified personal trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist and is constantly seeking to learn more to enhance her own training and that of her students. Most recently, Crockett was a headlining performer at the 2016 IJA Festival, was a principal performer in Circus Flora’s 30th Anniversary show, Pastime, and was featured in the Actors Gymnasium’s Quest. [/read]
Aerial Emery was born into a circus family and started performing when she was 7. For nine years she trained at Xelias Aerial Arts in Minnesota and performed all over the United States. Aerial also trained and competed as a rhythmic gymnast, always most passionate about the hoop. She toured three summers with Circus Smirkus, the international award winning youth circus. Aerial graduated in June 2013 from École de Cirque de Québec, specializing in hula hoops and cyr wheel. Since graduation she has toured with the Midnight Circus, worked with the GOP Varieté Theater in Germany and just got of tour with the Tony Award winning Broadway Musical “Pippin” with Les 7 Doigts de la Main. When she’s not hula hooping, you can find her knitting sweaters or laughing loudly.
Kurt 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]It took a little while, but Kurt finally built up the courage to get outside and attempt some of the movements he had seen. It was challenging to say the least, but he was captivated by the fun and excitement of this unique style of movement and training. The discipline began to find its way into more and more of his life, inspiring him yet again. He continued to train his movements, but it became so much more than fitness or fun. It became a way to live, a way to survive, and a way to look at the entire world differently. Finally, it became a way for him to help others to start their journey into a positive, healthy and happy life of compassion and spirit.[/read]
Sylvia 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]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.[/read]
Jill 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 Inferno, Sci-Fi Circus, Circus in Progress, An Explosion of a Winter’s Tale, or Vaudeville Roars.
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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]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.[/read]
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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]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.[/read]
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 Ott fell in love with Aerials 5 years ago when she joined a beginners class at Actors Gymnasium. Her love of fearlessness and bravery has challenged her to rise to the occasion in both her own abilities and her students’. Creativity and curiosity is the basis of her teaching. Be passionate and be daring! [read more=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]
Caryn 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.[/read]
Tommy 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Other notable Chicago credits: Detroit (Steppenwolf), A Christmas Carol (The GoodmanTheatre), 100 Dresses (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Days Like Today (Writer’s Theatre), The King and I ,and City of Angels (Marriott Theatre). Much Love to Scott.[/read]
Symphony 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]She began her circus journey in 2010 taking a aerial arts class at The Actors Gymnasium and found that she could both express herself creatively and do challenging stunts in a perfect marriage of her skills. Since then she has gone on to teach and perform and most recently graduated from the inaugural class of the Professional Circus Training Program. She also continues to perform professionally regionally at theaters such as Chicago Shakespeare, The Goodman,and Raven Theatre and worldwide with the critically acclaimed podcast Welcome To Nightvale![/read]
Vanessa Strahan is an actor, dancer, teaching artist, director, and choreographer based in Chicago. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2018, holding a B.S. in Theatre with a concentration in Choreography, the Musical Theatre Certificate, and a minor in Political Science. After training at Actors Gym throughout college, she is thrilled to be joining the wonderful team of teachers![read more=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Her background includes 8 years of gymnastics, 13 years of contemporary dance, and 3 years of aerial arts. She currently serves as the Education Associate at Mudlark Theater, as well as a Teaching Artist both at Mudlark and at Northlight Theatre. She’s passionate about inclusive artistic practices, and how to make physical arts like dance and circus accessible to and beneficial for people with all levels of cognitive and physical ability. For more on her work (and silly pictures) visit her website at www.vanessastrahan.com.[/read]
Ashley Sylvester (Sylvi) is a circus performer from the Chicagoland Suburbs. Sylvi is a recent graduate of the Actors Gymnasium’s 2016 circus school program where she has trained since 2014. She majored in aerial sling and minored in hula hooping with additional studies in contortion, aerial hoop, partner acrobatics, dance, juggling, and physical theater.[read more=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Sylvi currently runs her own company Sylvi Circus Arts and works for other entertainment companies nationwide. Sylvi is aerial yoga certified and has taught circus arts and tumbling to pre-kindergarteners, adults, and special needs students since 2014. She will be receiving her 200 Yoga RYT in Spring of 2018.[/read]
Alejandro 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]He is also very proud of the work he does with the performing health collective, For Youth Inquiry. Oh, and don’t tell anyone, but he’s also Spider-Man.[/read]
Tommy 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]At age 14, Tommy was one of the original members of The Actors Gymnasium’s Teen Ensemble and performed with that group in and around the Chicago area in both industrial gigs and full-length shows. After leaving the Ensemble, Tommy spent the majority of her time teaching circus and performing arts to children, teens, and adults, and continued to perform throughout the Midwest. In 2013, Tommy Tomlins graduated from the New England Center for Circus Arts’ Pro-Track program, and in 2015 she excitedly returned to her circus roots at The Actors Gym. For more information, please visit www.tommytomlins.com [/read]
Javen 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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]Above all, he specializes in aerial straps and Chinese pole, performing with male and female partners. Recently, he was in the cast of the Jeff award winning production of Moby Dick at Lookingglass Theatre Company. He now teaches full-time at the Actors Gymnasium.[/read]
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=”Read More” less=”Read Less”]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. [/read]
Oyunchimeg “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.