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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For 15 years, Adrian Danzig was Producing Artistic Director of 500 Clown, a Chicago-based Clown Theater ensemble that toured nationally. He performed the shows in the 500 Clown touring repertoire: 500 Clown Macbeth, 500 Clown Frankenstein, 500 Clown Christmas, and 500 Clown Trapped. More recently he performed as a Dancer / Actor / Clown with Lucky Plush Productions The Better Half and in The House Theatre’s A Comedical History for Mr. Punch, he payed both Antipholi, in California Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Comedy of Errors, Caliban in The Feast : an Intimate Tempest at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Medvedenko in The Seagull at Lake Lucille Chekov, Orlando at The Court Theater. In addition he has performed in shows at The Goodman theatre, The Second City, Steppenwolf Studio, Berkeley Rep, Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Public Theater, and with Shakespeare & Company and Lookingglass Theatre Company. He has performed his solo works at The Kitchen, P.S. 122, The Ontological Hysteric Theater and Soho Rep. He was an early Neo-futurist and a founding member of Redmoon Theater. He has studied clown with Ctibor Turba, Philippe Gaulier, Ronlin Foreman, Dominique Jando, Els Comediants, David Shiner, Avner the Eccentric and was a clown with Big Apple Circus Clown Care for 7 years.
As a teacher, in addition to hundreds of workshops and master classes around the country and internationally, he was on faculty at The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University for 7 years where he taught Movement, Acting, Comedy, Circus Arts, and directed devised works. He has created 500 Clown based workshops for doctors, business schools, hotel employees, division 2 athletes, incarcerated youth and Chicago-based performers, social workers, and other interested types.
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.
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.
A. Raheim White, a Chicago, IL native, earned their MFA from New York University -Tisch School of the Arts and BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, both in Dance Performance and Choreography. They also studied abroad in Taiwan to train in Classical Chinese Dance, Dance Meditation, and Kung Fu at the Taipei National University of the Arts. Raheim has performed with a host of companies including, Sean Curran Company, Project 44, Lisa Johnson-Willingham Project, Trainor Dance, Germaul Barnes Viewsic Dance, and Whitney Hunter[MEDIUM]. Choreography credits include Opera Lafayette, UIUC-Theater, UIUC-Dance, and Dance Africa Pittsburgh among others. As a Master Instructor, they have taught at The American Dance Festival, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Point Park University, Barnard College at Columbia University, University of Hawaii – Manoa, Dance at Illinois, Gibney Dance, and Dance New Amsterdam. Raheim is currently an ensemble member of Lucky Plush Productions, is the creator of RahCrystals, a Reiki Master-Teacher and crystal adornment designer who strives to facilitate healing through art, Reiki, education, dance, and dialogue.
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.