Last year Lara Lipschitz caught everyone’s attention starring as Daphna in The Fugard Theatre’s smash-hit production of Bad Jews which is making its way back to Cape Town in December for a limited run. Lara is an actress, dancer, singer, writer and producer of the web-series Chin Up, which she also stars in. Chin Up is a comedic take on her experience as an actress in the ‘professional’ world. Season 2 of Chin Up debuts this month and we were delighted to meet with Lara and chat about her career.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I always wanted to be an actress. My late mother was an actress and drama teacher so I guess it’s in the family. My dad started taking me to the theatre when I was very young and he has always encouraged my acting career. I remember wanting to be a comedienne when I was a child because I loved making people laugh. That’s definitely something
that’s stuck with me. I’ve always loved comedy.
When I was watching Chin Up, I thought ‘she sounds so familiar! Where do I know her from?’ And then when I was researching for this, the YoTv thing came up. How was the transition from being a presenter to pursuing a career as an actress? Do you feel the two are completely different?
For me, acting is truthful and presenting is not. After YoTv I studied Drama and I did think it would be easier to book work from my 10 year TV presenting experience. I eventually realised I had to stop mentioning YoTv in auditions because people would just assume ‘oh she can’t act because she’s a presenter.’ I decided to rather not talk about it because people have that weird assumption that you can’t do both but you really can, depending on who you are obviously. They are completely different. It definitely was a shift to not be aware of the camera for starters and to not be aware of yourself so much. Studying drama helped shift me from presenting to acting.
When you were studying was there one role that you got to play that you loved above all the others?
I played Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof which was amazing to do.I also did a lot of Musical Theatre like, Songs for a New World by Jason Robert Brown, which was so much fun to be in and I did a lot of physical theatre shows, which we created through workshopped rehearsals. I did a lot of that at Wits and less straight acting for some reason, that’s just the way it worked.
That’s so interesting.
I love Wits honestly. I think it’s quite different now. I majored in physical theatre and acting. I also did Musical Theatre as an extra course. I was just lucky because that didn’t exist before I was there and it doesn’t exist now. It was just this lucky time with amazing people in the Musical Theatre world who took on this course and taught me the most valuable things. I feel like I got such a broad education in that way. I really miss it and I miss the physical theatre side. After Wits, the first thing that I put out into the world was my one-woman show where I played multiple characters and I love that kind of theatre. I want to do that kind of thing again. I’m looking for the right piece of writing.
I saw that you recently started doing standup comedy…
Oh my god yes…
Can you talk about that?
In a nutshell, it’s the hardest thing I have ever done. I’ve always wanted to do it since I was a little kid but I’ve always been too scared. I had a bit too much free time on my hands and wanted to be productive and do something challenging. I figured it was really good practice and that I would enjoy it. The first night went so well. Too well because it has never gone that well since then. It’s chasing that high that will never come. I got to this point where I was just trying to feel good as an actor in the world. Acting is so difficult because you are constantly being rejected all the time. When I was going on stage doing standup I thought ‘why am I doing this to myself more? Why am I making myself even more vulnerable and exposed just for other people’s enjoyment/not enjoyment.’ There’s so much to say about it. The point is, it is difficult. I respect comedians so much more. I intend to try some more but I decided to give my heart a break.
After watching Chin Up, and I’m so glad I got to watch it now because I got to binge on the entire first season and there were times when I thought ‘I really hope this is exaggerated…’
Yes, it’s not that bad.
Because there were times that were quite sad and heartbreaking.
I definitely exaggerate those stories but that’s the ugly truth of this business. At least for me. Some people have better luck. Some people have worse luck. It’s not always that bad. I’m just showing the tragedy for the comedy aspect. That’s also why I put standup on hold. I just wanted to make more Chin Up. The second I knew I could do it again I put standup on hold but the really cool thing was that I used a bit of my standup journey in the new season. So you see me trying standup comedy and you see me succeed and then not succeed.
I wanted to ask you about doing this without a budget. How were you able to get it all done?
I really believe in the power of collaboration. I think it’s underrated how amazing it can be when you find people who are interested in the same thing as you and who want to make it happen with you purely out of the joy of it. I feel like I’ve been very lucky in finding a small group of people to do that with. Of course, it helps that my boyfriend, Devin Toselli, is a Director of Photography and he has a brilliant eye and can make the most amazing things with very little lighting, so that’s why it looks so good, because of him. This time I got a director, Hylton Tannenbaum, who mainly works on commercials and wanted to make something more narrative based. It’s creative freedom for all of us and when people buy into that, that’s their payment. And I often see on Facebook or whatever, ‘I’m not working for free’ or ‘exposure doesn’t pay my bills’ and I totally agree because that is true but you have to be open to certain opportunities for exposure as an actor, I think. Everyone who was in season 1, got professional paying work from it. I got into a film because of a director seeing me in Chin Up. It has the power to do that. Work for free depending on what it is because if it’s a good, amazing production that will get you seen or that you’ll even just enjoy doing then I would say just do it.
When will season 2 be out?
We are aiming for the end of October. We have an amazing heavyweight editor and she’s a professional who just enjoys editing this out of love for it. I’ve got all the local bands who are my friends who are giving me their music for free and that’s how I’ve managed to do it, going back to your last question, asking. The worst that can happen is that they say no and then you ask someone else and ultimately the right people will be involved.
Do you feel like there are enough compelling roles for South African women right now in this industry?
Not at all. Maybe not in the world actually. When I go to castings for commercials, you either have to be perfect, like tall and flawless like a model or really strange-looking so that you are the character. You can’t be an ordinary person. There’s just such few roles for that. I hardly get any and it’s very disheartening which is why I wanted to make my own, what I find funny and interesting and relevant to me and it turns out that it is interesting and relevant to a lot of other people. There are few. I mean of course there are the great ones but there could be more for sure.
I think you got to play one of the greatest roles, at least to come out of last season, in Bad Jews.
Daphna is such an incredible character. It’s an incredible opportunity to play such a complex, huge, interesting character with conflicting ideas of the world and be very opinionated and ballsy and a lot of things that I am not. It really challenged me and scared me so much every single night. I think I got a better grip on her in the Johannesburg run and that’s why I’m super excited to do it again for the third time in Cape Town because it was a big challenging, scary thing. It’s a lead role and I had never done that before professionally so I was scared every night. Eventually, it became a little bit less scary but I’m very excited to do it again.
Now that you’ve done it in Cape Town and Johannesburg, how did things change and what would you like to come out of doing it again?
I definitely feel like I’ll be more confident in it and therefore braver. We have a new Melody as well, Donna Cormack-Thomson, who is awesome and I’m excited to see how that changes the dynamic. In terms of the chemistry of the cast, it did change from Cape Town to Johannesburg and we got closer and we just understood each other more and we understood the show more. It got more solidified and stronger. I look forward to being braver.
Usually, in all my interviews I ask which South African women in the arts inspire them but before I get to that for you, you are the first person that I’ve interviewed that has come up in another interview.
And they described you as ”Lara Lipschitz because she just seems like she has her sh*t together.” Do you feel that way?
Wow. No, not at all. I sometimes try to imagine how I must look to other people from the outside because from the inside I’m just like ‘ah what am I doing with my life?’ So no I definitely don’t have my sh*t together at all.
Which South African women inspire you?
The first one that popped into my head was Gina Shmukler. She is an incredible actress and was my lecturer at Wits. She did the Musical Theatre course at Wits and she just taught me so much and became a mentor to me and if I need advice or anything theatre related I will call her. I’m also inspired by Julia Anastasopolous and Sylvaine Strike and I have to give a special mention to my agent, Moonyeen Lee who is truly inspiring. She is an amazing casting agent who has done so much for the South African film industry. Also, the women of Pop Art Theatre in Maboneng; Hayleigh Evans and Orly Shapiro who have created a culture of theatre, comedy and generally cool night-life. Sade Giliberti also inspires me because she also started out as a kid and we’ve been hustling together for all these years and she decided to go to London because as a presenter she reached the top of what you can be here in South Africa and now she’s extending her world of possibilities and that’s really cool and inspiring.
I know you’ve done some Musical Theatre as well. Do you have any dream roles?
I was in Cabaret which is one of my dream shows and I understudied Sally Bowles and almost played my dream role. Just being in the ensemble of Cabaret was a big tick off my list.
You don’t have to limit that answer just to Musical Theatre, I just wanted to mention that you’ve done that on top of everything else.
There are so many shows that I don’t even know about that I want to be in. I might have to get back to you on that one.
Absolutely. It is quite a big one to think about. You could also think about it in terms of what kind of work do you want to do next?
I love dark comedy like Bad Jews or Clybourne Park. Great writing. I love one person shows like I mentioned, multiple characters, physical comedy. I also love Musical Theatre. I really want to do that more and film and TV. I would also love it if Chin Up could become something bigger. It has the potential to, especially after this season. I’m hoping to get funding to do a third season or a film. My dream role would be to be in a Woody Allen movie or a Wes Anderson film. That would be cool. Otherwise, I’ll just have to make my own work. That’s the plan.
Special thanks to Lara, Jesse Kramer and Lamees Albertus.
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