The Actors Gymnasium Professional Circus Training Program faculty includes:
Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (PROGRAM DIRECTOR), 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.
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. 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.
Molly Brennan (Physical Theatre Director) 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. 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.
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. Recent Lookingglass acting credits include Arabian Nights, directed by Mary Zimmerman, and Our Town, directed by 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Book Kennison is a juggler and physical comedian based in Chicago. His formative years were spent in circus rings–at Circus Harmony in St. Louis, Missouri and on tour with Circus Smirkus in New England. His first job out of youth circus was as a clown on the 139th edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Over the last ten years, he’s been an integral part of Midnight Circus’s highly successful Circus in the Parks.
As a student of the art for almost twenty years, Book’s knowledge of juggling technique, discipline, and creation runs deep. He’s currently at work on a comprehensive curriculum for the juggling student at all stages of their career. Book is a prolific, self-taught artist whose juggling practice and theory draws on his knowledge of visual art, music, and the written word. His ongoing photography project Year can be found on Instagram @book_kennison.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Melinda Jean Myers is a dance artist and choreographer currently working and residing in Chicago. Along with teaching dance classes and performing with Lucky Plush Productions, she creates interdisciplinary ensemble works and one woman cabarets. She received her MFA from University of Iowa and her BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She was honored to perform and teach internationally with the Trisha Brown Dance Company for four years, and currently re-stages their repertory and teaches master classes. Mindy has presented her work at Harvest Chicago Festival, D49 Festival, and shared an evening with The Nexus Project at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse. She produced her one woman cabaret, greatBIGworld through High Concept Laboratories’ Sponsored Artist program at Mana Contemporary. Her choreographic works have been presented in South Korea, Germany, New York City and throughout the Midwest.
Julia Rhoads is the founding Artistic Director of Lucky Plush Productions. She has created over 25 works with the company, several of which have toured extensively throughout the US. Other choreography credits include Lookingglass Theatre’s The Great Fire, Walkabout Theater’s Mama: A Play for Voices, Redmoon’s Project Y, and River North Dance Company’s Oasis and Between Three. Julia has been named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” and was three times included New City Chicago’s “Top 50 Players.” She is the recipient of the 2013 Alpert Award in Dance, a Fractured Atlas Arts Entrepreneurship Award, and she has received fellowships and awards from the NEA, National Dance Project, National Performance Network, Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, Chicago Dancemakers Forum, Illinois Arts Council, and the Jacob K. Javits Foundation. Julia is a former member of the San Francisco Ballet and XSIGHT! Performance Group. She received a BA in History from Northwestern University, an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute Chicago, and she is currently a Lecturer and Dance Advisor at University of Chicago’s department of Theater and Performance Studies.
Michel Rodriguez Cintra was born in Havana, and is a former member of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Hedwig Dances. Choreography credits include 3 works for Hedwig, one of which was a finalist in the A.W.A.R.D Show 2010. He has also created a work for Columbia College Chicago’s faculty concert, where he is adjunct faculty. Michel was named one of “The Men of 2010” by Time Out Chicago, and he is the recipient of the 2013 3Arts Award in Dance. In addition to being an ensemble member of Lucky Plush Productions, current projects include CDI/Concert Dance and The Nexus Project with Ben Wardell, which was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2014.
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/christcollege/academics/production/
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. 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
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Jennifer Zumann has been dedicated to the field of Pilates and movement education since attending her first class in 1995. Along side her Pilates education, Jennifer pursued education in yoga, Japanese acupressure, medicinal herbalism, and Chinese diagnostics. As an enthusiastic presenter and self-proclaimed anatomy nerd, Jennifer’s expertise has been recognized with features in multiple media outlets, such as Pilates Style Magazine, IDEA Fitness, Yoga Journal, Massage Therapy Journal, Disney Family.com, PilatesAnytime.com, and FusionPilates.edu. She has been a sought after provider of continued fitness education, as a regular presenter at conferences such as Pilates Method Alliance and Pilates on Tour since 2006. Jennifer provides continued education for both PMA and ACE requirements. As a mother of 4 active sons, Jennifer is grateful for the strength and patience Pilates has inspired.