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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi 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.
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.
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.
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.
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). Jack has previously worked with Griffin Theatre Co. (Letters Home, The Harvest), Interrobang Theatre Project (Foxfinder), Next Theatre (The Exonerated) and in workshops with Lookingglass Theatre Company and the American Myth Center. He has also trained with iO Chicago and One Group Mind in long-form improv. In 2018, he was named a “Hot New Face of Chicago Theater” (Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.