Review: ProTraining Showcase at the Actors Gymnasium Steps It Up

Every spring the Actors Gymnasium sends its ProTraining graduates out into the performing arts world equipped with a new set of circus skills that will serve them well in Chicago (and beyond), a circus town with plenty of performance opportunities. They come from around the country for this one- to two-year program (started in 2016) and many of them stick around long after to hone their craft even further with the talented pool of circus instructors the city harbors, starting with artistic director and co-founder Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi herself, a second generation circus artist, and renowned clown/director Adrian Danzig, who directed the clown track in the program/show.

Along with the 12 graduates and their certificates comes the annual ProTraining Showcase, the opportunity for each artist to show the community, family and prospective employers what they’ve accomplished in the two-year certification program. This program has gotten stronger every year as word gets out that the program provides a solid circus base, and a behind-the-scenes experience with the Actor’s Gymnasium signature circus style that combines drama and musical prowess with circus, as well as access to Chicago’s theatrical community.

This year’s graduating class was full of acrobatic and clown energy as it brought in several seasoned actors along with fresh physical talent, making the show a delightful romp from their opening ensemble number to the closing choreography when the whole troupe came together. The rhythm of the show itself was perfect, as it toggled between aerial and ground acts while also swinging from comedy acts to graceful ones, keeping the audience riveted to the action and scene changes.

Actors Gymnasium ProTraining graduating class. Pictured left to right/top to bottom: Ollie Beach, Chandler Chamberlain, Austin Rambo, Rachel Reizburg, Symmone Still, JJ Gatesman, Liz Taylor, Erin Gautille, Charlie Baker, Wild, Jordan Wallace, Julian Hester. Photo by GlitterGuts Photography.

Suspended on the lyra, Chandler Chamberlain (originating from Colorado) exhibited elegance and flow. Talented local actor Jordan Wallace (Daisy) followed with a truly endearing comic cloud swing number. Soon thereafter, Liz Taylor (Sydney the Great, aka Skirt Vonnegut in the burlesque world) acrobatically creaked her body into many artistic positions for a hilarious clowning number on baby piano.

JJ Gatesman (theater director and actor from Chicago) brought a lighthearted element to his role as clown janitor in the show (all while balancing on rolla bolla). Another hilarious character was presented by Charlie Baker (magician, director and actor) who delivered some swaggering cowboy vibes in his rope act.

Rachel Reizburg (performer, storyteller from Florida) performed a charged yet triumphant, angsty battle against the waves on silks, and Charlie Baker and JJ Gatesman did a clownful juggling act full of pratfalls to ground us once again. Wild (also a street performer and film maker) performed a moving and thought-provoking dance/pole piece full of dance moves that embraced Afrofuturism in a cinematic way.

Austin Rambo, an experienced actor with a passion for the Chinese pole, honed his clowning skills at Actor’s Gym and brought it to the entire show where he performed in several comedic acts, including a side-splitting fireman number with his fellow performers Jordan Wallace and Julian Hester. 

Erin Gautille showed up in full mermaid regalia with her powerful number on aerial net, proving that the grace of merpeople is matched by their strength.

Symonne Still (a props and scenic designer originally from South Carolina) is currently a Chicago-based actor who brought articulation and poise to her role as a wind up doll on lyra. Ollie Beach (Chinese pole and juggling with a background in fire performance) provided power and flow to her fierce act on pole. 

Julian Hester (Specks) (from North Carolina) has an acting background in theater, film and TV; he’s an ensemble member at the Artistic Home. That might explain why he needed some alone time mid-show, at the top of a trapeze, where he could read in peace. Sadly, for him not much reading was accomplished, since the ladder he used to get up there provided mainly just hilarious antics for us.

Watching this ensemble showcase their multifaceted accomplishments, it’s easy to envision their continued rise into the world of seasoned professional circus artists and performers, and it is a hopeful sign for the future of Chicago as a performing arts hub for the nation that we attract such a diversity of talented performers. Bravo.

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Kim Campbell
Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.