Learn to fly higher

Our Professional Training Program is the clearest expression of our mission to develop well-rounded, physical performers.

Our nine month program is for physical performers looking to take their training to the next level.
As a marketable performer, it’s essential to have a versatile skill set and the ability to form a powerful connection with audiences, whether you’re pursuing professional performance opportunities or entrance into a multi-year circus program.
Actors Gym creates confident artists with the strength to create visceral works that push the envelope of physicality, enabling them to make their careers last.
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“I came to AG with a very specific goal: acquire and maintain a skill set that would put me on the radar for Lookingglass Theatre. As an actor with movement experience, I wanted to 'up' my skill set.

Pretty much everything I did was equally positive and fright-inducing, and it is this balance of fright and flight that is so important for professional growth.”
– Cassi S.

The program provides 27 hours per week of intense, high-caliber circus theatre training. Students choose between two primary concentrations: acrobatics and clown. Both concentrations include coursework in foundational circus and performance skills, including:

  • Physical theatre (ensemble building, physical improvisation, devising, flocking, partner/acro yoga)Dance (ballet, contemporary-based technique, low flying, improvisation, choreography)
  • Fundamentals (safety, stretching and conditioning, Pilates, injury prevention, special topics such as circus history and career management)
  • Training starts off with “boot camp” where students undergo four intense weeks of training that focus on increasing strength, flexibility, and technique.
  • Boot camp also provides a foundational skill set in physical theatre, dance, tumbling, and juggling, and gives students the tools to craft their own workout regimen to serve them as they dive into the remaining 8-months of training.

Acrobatics Concentration

The acrobatics concentration builds on the above foundation by helping students achieve proficiency in a wide range of circus arts:

  • Ground skills (hand balancing, tumbling, juggling, partner acro, contortion, tightwire, stilt walking, rolling globe)
  • Aerial skills (static/dance trapeze, silks, lyra, straps, Spanish web/corde lisse, Chinese pole)
  • Acrobatic safety and rigging instruction

After winter break, each student declares a major and minor apparatus/specialty. Students will train primarily in those two areas, while also continuing general classes in dance, physical theatre, and contortion, through the midterm in April when exclusive training in the major and minor increases to prepare for the showcase performance in June.

Clown Concentration

The clown concentration provides training for physical performers looking to heighten their work and increase their confidence onstage and will feature regular performance labs to help students develop the necessary attunement and connection with audiences.

In addition to regular conditioning and training in circus arts, the curriculum draws on techniques from a wide range of areas and disciplines, including:

  • Physical comedy
  • Devising
  • Scene partner relationships
  • Object manipulation and interaction with costumes, props, and set pieces
  • Ensemble theatre making
  • Meisner technique
  • Thai massage
The clown uses humor to embrace the full spectrum of human experience. The clown we play towards is not naive. It is a 24 hour news cycle clown that carries the weight of the world on its shoulders and has been smashed by it. The clown is resilient. Even when it doesn’t win, it always survives the experience, and the audience sees that it's possible to go through the fire, to transform, and to thrive.
– Adrian Danzig, Co-Founder 500 Clown
“This program was the best decision I have ever made both personally and professionally. Each discipline taught humility, patience, and respect for the apparatus, the ensemble, and the self. As an actor this program proved invaluable to me. Since graduating I have begun interweaving my love for circus and theatre and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.”
– Molly H.

We're proud to partner with these organizations:

world-class instructors

Our outstanding faculty are drawn from many of Chicago’s best companies including the Tony-award winning Lookingglass Theatre ensemble and the ground-breaking dance-theatre company, Lucky Plush Productions and include luminaries such as Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi, Amanda Crockett, and Adrian Danzig.

our students are going places

Our graduates have gone on to perform across the country, from Chicago’s top stages (including Lookingglass, Writers Theatre, and The Goodman) to Broadway tours and more.


The full cost of the 9-month program is $9500. Financial aid is available.

Tuition includes all of the weekly classes and private lessons, as well as 2-3 hours of open gym access and practice time daily.

Application Process

Once you have submitted your application, you will also need to create and submit your audition video to: protraining@actorsgymnasium.org.

Your video should feature not only the required skills below, but also as much performance energy as possible. Please play to the camera. Your video should be no longer than 5 minutes and include the following:
  1. Handstand (free standing or against a wall)
  2. Forward roll
  3. Dive roll
  4. Splits (left, center and right side)
  5. Backbend (from laying on ground)
  6. Cartwheel (right side and left side)
  7. Pull ups (as many as possible)
  8. Trapeze inversion from hanging (move from hanging by your arms to hanging by your knees gracefully. If you do not have access to a trapeze bar, please use a chin-up bar and lift your toes up to the bar while hanging from your hands).
  9. Please also include any of the following you can safely execute: Front walkover, back bend from standing, front handspring, back handspring, standing back tuck.
  10. A portion of a choreographed act of your choosing which demonstrates sequencing and performance abilities
Anything else you would like to include (tumbling, dance, juggling, hand balancing, acting, clowning, aerial work, musical ability, or other special skills)

Prospective Pro-Trainers can expect to hear from us within 2 weeks of their application and video link’s submission. Decisions are made and communicated on a rolling basis and acceptances will continue until the program is full.

Key Dates

April 1, 2020: Priority Application Deadline
September 2020: Professional Circus Training Program begins
June 2021: Final Showcase Performance

All dates and details subject to change.

Not Ready to Apply Yet?

Join thousands of other circus artists & fans who receive occasional updates from us!


Beyond direct access to our incredible faculty of experts, the pro training program at Actors Gymnasium will help you become a stronger, well-balanced, multidisciplinary artist. We’re most interested in helping our students grow as collaborators, storytellers, and creative professionals who will thrive in a wide range of artistic settings.

Students appreciate us for our strong focus on ensemble building and devising that builds the skills necessary to work in highly collaborative professional environments.

Our intensive curriculum will focus on aerial arts skills, tumbling, partner acrobatics, physical theatre, clown, dance, and fundamentals such as conditioning, rigging, and injury prevention.

Focused study is available in:

  • Trapeze (single point, double point, and duo)
  • Fabric/Silks
  • Rope
  • Tumbling
  • Chinese Pole
  • Hand Balancing
  • Straps
  • Partner Acrobatics
  • Lyra
  • Clown
  • Wire
  • Juggling & Manipulation
  • Sling or Hammock
  • Cloud Swing
  • Invented Apparatus

Our program is designed to meet the needs of artists and performers looking to take their circus training and performance to the next level. Successful applicants typically have some experience in both circus arts and/or physical theatre, though we take a holistic approach to assessing the skill sets of prospective students and seek to fill the program with focused students of diverse physical and artistic backgrounds.

There is no formal application deadline, since we accept applications on a rolling basis until the program is full. The program typically fills up by early summer.

We do not provide housing, but we are situated near the heart of Northwestern University’s campus with a large selection of student housing. We are also only a few train stops from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, home to Loyola University and a hot spot for artists and affordable student housing options.

We are located in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center (a beautiful Daniel Burnham-designed building nestled in a park) at 927 Noyes Street Evanston, IL 60201. Acrobatics classes are primarily taught in our 3,000 sq. ft. gymnasium space, which features a 1,600 sq. ft. sprung floor and a fully rigged 24 foot ceiling. 

Other classes such as dance, physical theatre, and open workouts take place in our studio space which features a semi-sprung wood floor, gymnastics mats, and a rigged ceiling.  All equipment is provided.

Our goal is for the students in our program to find work in the artistic community, so we try very hard to accommodate for the schedules of working actors and performers.

Yes! Most of our students have a job outside of the program during early mornings, evenings, and/or weekends.

Payment plans are available for all students. A limited number of scholarships (up to 75%) are available for outstanding students and in some cases those with significant financial need.

About Actors Gym

The Actors Gymnasium has been a pioneer in Chicago’s circus theatre movement since 1995. Led by master teacher and Circus Ring of Fame artist Sylvia Hernandez Distasi, we are celebrated for our history of award winning collaborations with theaters around the country, and are proud to serve as the exclusive provider of circus performing arts training for Lookingglass Theatre Company.

Multidisciplinary training is a hallmark of The Actors Gym, and applications are encouraged from those who have additional skills in music, dance, design, original work, and other disciplines.

Just steps away from public transit, the Gym is located minutes outside of Chicago. As such, students are able to take easy advantage of the resources that our incredibly vibrant circus and theatre community provides.

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