Winnifred Coombe is the creation of Chicago performance artist CAROLINE KINGSLEY, who embodies Winnifred in order to enchant, mystify, and engage her listeners with the power of speech. Neo-Futurist KURT CHIANG interviewed her. Come see Winnifred Coombe at INFILTRATION, Friday September 19th, quickly followed by Too Much Light. Doors open 10:30pm.
Tell me about your relationship to Chicago. Artistically, and personally.
Well I was born here, and I started performing Winnifred here. So, I think it’s a pretty great place to grow up as a real girl or a magical Victorian alter-ego.
Your website solicits appearances of Winnifred Coombe at corporate events. I want to hear about one of those.
It can be anything from reading tarot cards to spice up a company Halloween party, to performing a kind of oration-roast of someone retiring, to giving a rousing quarterly speech Winnifred-Wolf-of Wallstreet-style. I also really like to do personalized divorce ceremonies or blessingways for pregnant woman. Basically if you want some one to take charge of the party, Winnifred can.
As a Neo-Futurist, I rarely get to develop and portray characters. But the last play I did outside our theater, I briefly portrayed a suffragette. I didn’t get real deep into some sort of transformation, but I did enjoy feeling like a fiery orator, and using the words I had to say as rhetorical weapons. In fact, it felt as if I were a better, smarter version of myself. Do you relate to Winnifred in some way?
I absolutely picked Winnifred as a mouthpiece because she is the most fiery, magical version of myself I could conceive of. The funny part is that in Winnifred’s day, women couldn’t speak in public unless they were channeling spirits – hence the ties between the early women’s suffrage movement and things like seances and trance-lecturing. Also, I think when someone tries to tell you when you can and cannot speak, it comes with more fire. I’m lucky that my foremothers fought for my right to speak publicly, so I don’t have that kind of pressure, but performing as Winnifred helps me heighten the things I want to say.
There’s this video of you performing on a boat with Salonathon, and you look exceedingly confident. Have you sailed before?
Ha! I’m actually not much of a sailor. My dear friend and the artistic director of my theater company Dog & Pony Krissy Vanderwarker is an avid sailor, so she’s taken me out once or twice. She pointed out that I was yawning a lot – which usually means one is feeling seasick.
What do you want the audience to experience – or take away with them – after your performance Friday?
Gah! I feel like that’s asking “how do you want people to feel after they talk to you.” I hope people like Winnifred, and find her interesting, but mostly I just really excited and grateful to share this thing I created. I guess I want them to have fun, and a little something to think about – I don’t want them to want to throw up or anything.
Also in regards to this Friday: September 19th will be the anniversary of New Zealand’s Electoral Act of 1893, which gave all women in NZ the right to vote. This is in contrast to the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provided that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” which was passed in 1920. That’s a 27 year gap. Thoughts?
There’s no doubt we were behind the times in a lot of ways when it comes to women’s rights, and still are. I’m real excited to see a female president. My next project is Hill and Bill: a Billary Broadway-oke Musical – it’s another way to explore my fascination with women in power in America – and also sing a lot of great parody songs with my partner who has a great Bill Clinton impression and pretty awesome dance moves.