Q&A: Chautauqua Theater Company’s Jennifer Holcombe talks ‘arts heavy’ background, strong female role


Who: Jennifer Holcombe, 29, conservatory actor.

She began the summer with the Young Playwrights Project and periodically played Rosalind in As You Like It. For Into the Breeches!, Holcombe played Grace Richards, a mother who experiments with acting while her husband is fighting in World War II.

Jennifer Holcombe

When CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba offered Holcombe the role of Rosalind, Holcombe jumped at the opportunity.

“I was very excited about playing such a strong woman in the Shakespeare canon, and then being able to be cast in Into the Breeches! as well has been really a treat,” Holcombe said. “I’m getting to play with that line between another female playing a male character in Shakespeare, but in context of another layer of it being a show-within-a-show.”

Where she’s from: Holcombe hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and just graduated with her MFA from University of California Irvine.

The actor said she was raised in an “arts heavy” family that supports her acting endeavors.

“My parents could tell from an early age that I loved being on stage, so they put me in dance classes,” Holcombe said. “In high school, I was interested in theater, so I auditioned for my first show and never stopped.”

First theatrical memory: After some convincing from her drama teacher to audition, Holcombe played Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

“It was, of course, a big to-do because I’m not blonde, and Sally needs to be blonde, but it was such a blast for me to able to jump into a new way of expressing art,” Holcombe said.

Proudest theatrical moment: In her third year of graduate school, Holcombe acted in Mrs. Packard, a period play based on Elizabeth Packard, a woman who was wrongly committed to an insane asylum by her husband.

“She fought her way out and was able to get her case seen by a judge who clearly saw that she was sane and was able to get her released,” Holcombe said. “Afterward, she wrote a bunch of books, and thus was legislation changed to allow women to basically have far more rights than they did at the time.”

Holcombe said her role was physically and emotionally challenging.

“We had a lot of scenes with physical and sexual violence, and so those were very difficult to immerse myself in, in the midst of also doing graduate school classes,” she said.

The actor said the conversations with women who saw the show made her struggle worthwhile.

“It made me passionate about telling stories from women, especially from American history,” Holcombe said. “Most of the time, we’re telling stories of our forefathers and not our foremothers, and so to be able to do a piece that really delved further into that history and brought forward to the community some history that some people may not know was really an honor and a delight.”

Special skills: Holcombe can perform “lip tricks” by independently moving parts of her mouth.

What she’s listening to: “Modern Love.”

“It’s a wonderful short podcast that always reminds me of how much there is to humanity and our capacity to love,” Holcombe said.

Favorite foods: Holcombe likes macaroni and cheese because it reminds her of home.

“It’s my comfort food,” she said. “Sushi is the food that I could eat all day, every day, and chocolate is the food that I could not live without.”

What’s next: Holcombe is hunting for an apartment in New York City, where she will continue her theatrical career. Ideally, she would like to land a gig that allows her to reach her goal of visiting all 50 states.

“Maybe I can book a national tour that can help me finish that up,” Holcombe said.

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The author Kevin C. Vestal

Kevin Vestal is from Westerville, Ohio, and is a rising senior at Miami University in Ohio, studying journalism and professional writing with a minor in theater. Last summer, he interned for The Florence Newspaper in Italy, and he is excited to cover Chautauqua Theater Company and the Family Entertainment Series for the Daily. An avid thespian, Kevin recently performed on stage in Tartuffe and also has an irrational fear of wrists.