Lindy Abromowitz Sachs is a performer and doctor. Having started her tertiary studies at UCT’s Opera School, she then changed tack completely and entered the medical world, graduating as a doctor six short years later. Whilst pursuing her medical career, she still managed to keep her love for theatre and performing alive by appearing in several films, commercials, as well as numerous musicals including Grease, The Sound of Music, Cats, Annie, District Six and the runaway hit Offbeat Broadway, which returns to Theatre on the Bay for its much anticipated fifth incarnation.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I think it was a little bit by osmosis and a little bit kind of came naturally. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I was younger. I knew I wanted to do something different and I didn’t have one set idea. I love medicine, which I eventually did pursue, and I liked the concept of medicine and being a doctor but my mom, Cheryl Abromovitz, is a speech and drama teacher. I would be sitting upstairs in my room and hear 50 Shakespeare sonnets and plays. I would get it and I would know it probably better than the kids who were doing it because I had heard it 50 times before they had done it. I always had a love for it. I don’t like to pinpoint myself and say, “I am a this,” or, “I am a that.” I like doing lots of things. Life shouldn’t bottle you into one little container. There are so many different facets to life that I find you’ve got to try as much as you can. After school, I went to opera school. I did that for a year and then was like, “I want to be a doctor.” I think the doctor idea had been there earlier. There was no one really medical in my family but it was something I wanted to do. When I did qualify and did it, I had an amazing time working as a doctor. I really did enjoy it but then I also have this other passion for theatre and musical theatre. Throughout med school, I would be doing shows. In my fifth year, I was studying for my final exams and at rehearsals at Artscape for Grease. All the others would be chatting and drinking coffee and I would be frantically studying my notes and trying to cram it all in. I’d do the exams and come back and rehearse the next day. It was quite a hectic time but I think that I thrive on that. I’ve got three children and they all do completely different things so I’m split in three ways and then I’m here rehearsing during the day. It’s quite challenging but I think I enjoy that. It makes me happier. It sounds so strange but that is the case and I wonder if I even cope better when there is too much going on.
I was so surprised to hear about your medical career because you’ve been able to have two completely different careers and still carve out quite a full theatre career as well.
It would have been lovely to do more [theatre] but there was no time. The time demands were so much that I couldn’t do more than I possibly could. Even with the medicine, while I was working, I thought, “Is there a way to do it at the same time?” With this show, I think it was after or during Internship where I did the first Offbeat. I did that and kind of managed a bit then but I look at all the guys here, at a school like LAMTA, and think how amazing to be able to study this and do it all day long? What an amazing thing to do. You walk around the halls here and there are just kids that are smiling and laughing and doing jumps and turns and harmonizing together. It’s like Fame Academy. It’s so great to be able to do that but I know that I couldn’t have at the time because I was working hard.
Do you feel like your medical career has lent itself to your performing career in any way?
I think the other way around funnily enough. Say there is a really traumatic incident, I can channel my inner actor and go, “This is absolutely fine. I can deal with this. Here’s what we need to do. Calm down.” It’s happened numerous times. One of the incidents wasn’t even in a hospital. Someone was badly injured and everyone was panicking and didn’t know what to do and the person was semi-conscious. I was nervous. It was very stressful for me. I channelled my inner actor and thought, “Let’s do this properly.” I took control of the situation and I think I talked myself into being calm and I think perhaps it was the acting that helped there. I’m not sure what it was that kicked in but maybe it was that. Maybe the acting helps that side of things. I don’t know how it would work the other way around. In Cats, people asked me lots of medical things but when I’m working as a performer, I don’t like being asked medical things. I’m there for a different job. The job I’m being paid for is to perform and to entertain, essentially. That’s my role. If someone comes along and goes, “I have a gangrenous toe.” I’m like, “Well go and see your doctor. I’m not your doctor. I’m the performer now.”
What was it that originally sparked Offbeat Broadway?
Pieter Toerien knew Anton [Luitingh] and Paul [du Toit]. He had seen them at drama school or something. They both went to Stellenbosch. He approached them and said, “We are looking for a female performer. Can you find someone for us?” I had just done Grease. Anton was also in Grease and he suggested me and they were like, “Let’s try her out.” It was just amazing. It was great because our personalities are so different yet it works. It’s one of those strange combinations where we are all very different people from totally different walks of life and it just worked. People loved it and Paul is very funny. He is just naturally a very funny guy. He pens all the lyrics and the links in between. Anton is a musical genius. It boggles my mind how he does what he does and he plays as well.
Do you remember what it was like performing Offbeat Broadway for the first time?
The first season was actually where we are sitting right now. Literally, this was our stage. There was a Pilates studio next door and this was the stage. It was a cabaret venue. There were a few tables here where people could eat food and get drinks and stuff and our stage was a tiny stage with a massive piano on it and Paul and I trying to move around on this tiny stage. I think we got friends to do the lighting and the sound. It was one of those cute little productions that you think, “Let’s try and see what happens.” I think Offbeat 2 was also here and Pieter saw, Wow, this could really sell and you guys are not so bad.” He put us in the theatre for Offbeat 3 and 4 and in Johannesburg. We kind of gathered a following. After the first one, people loved it, especially people in the industry. The first one was quite esoteric, so it was things that people in the industry would understand and laugh about, stuff that we found funny and ridiculous. People would laugh at that and it gathered a bit of momentum and more people started coming and people heard it was funny. I think that’s how it kind of started and it snowballed.
And now you are on to Offbeat Broadway 5! How do you feel the production has evolved after all these years?
When we started it really was small and tiny. It’s essentially the same thread and backbone of all the shows. We had a director called Blaise Koch. He was an amazing person with great ideas. He used to lecture at Stellenbosch. He sadly passed away a few years ago but he directed Offbeat Broadway 3 and he used to tell us, “What you need to do is tickle with a razor blade. Make them laugh but have an edge.” That’s what we have tried to ascribe to. It’s funny. Make it funny but there should be some kind of hidden or maybe not so hidden message. There is a lot of stuff in this show, it’s funny but it’s also, wow, that’s a little bit offensive but it’s funny but we understand why it’s offensive because it’s almost at the expense of the people who are causing the offence rather than us being offensive. It’s tickling with a razor blade. If you had to say it to someone on the street, it sounds overtly offensive but it’s not. It’s almost a social parody. It’s finding the right way to express what we feel without causing offence.
What has it been like for you to jump back into season 5?
It’s quite hectic. I’ve taken a couple of years break. I’ve been doing a few things but nothing major just because of the kids. I’d love to do all these big musicals but I can’t travel with three children that are in school. It’s not possible and it’s not fair. They are my be all and end all. I would never leave them to tour or travel for however many months. That is the life I’ve chosen but I also have this hankering of, “I wish I could go on tour. I wish I could be in this show or that show.” I haven’t been able to because that is the choice I made. I’m very happy with the choice but there is always that, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” I’m happy coming here every day. It’s lovely and I’m managing to juggle both, funnily enough. As I said, in the chaos, it’s easier. I’m managing so far so good. No one seems to be suffering. It’s great for me to be doing this again. My kids do a lot of theatre as well and they do commercials and films. My one child has just finished a US film. She had quite a big role in that so one was doing that [and] one was doing a show at Artscape. They’ve done a couple of shows at Artscape so they are also kind of in it, so then I do it by osmosis there. I’m there and I say, “Hi” to my old buddies but now we are getting back into it and Kinky Boots after this is going to be quite a thing.
It’s quite a big theatre heavy year for you.
Kinky Boots is a long run but the greatest thing about it is that it’s local and that’s why I could take it and go, “I want to audition for that! Finally, something I can audition for!” It’s just in Cape Town which is wonderful.
What are you looking forward to in regards to that production?
I think it’s probably the cast. That whole camaraderie. The cast that they’ve got sounds amazing. I know a couple of the people and they are great. I think it’s that, that I’m looking forward to. It’s that special cast buzz. I think it’s going to be a fun show. Light-hearted for me is great. Angst and treurig is not my vibe. This is happy and light and fun and humorous. It’s that that I’m looking forward to.
How has it been for you to jump in and out of the industry?
What I’ve tried to do in the interim, is try to keep up singing. I would go to singing lessons periodically with various teachers. I still do that. I can’t really say. I think it should be fine. We’ll see in two weeks time. You hope your memory holds. The older you get, the more holes are in your memories. I think my memory holds and keeps it all in but I think it should be fine. It’s great for me because it’s something completely different from my normal day. I do a lot of commercials as well, so I would drop the kids at school, have a quick little chat with the moms who are just regular gals. They are awesome gals. Then I go do some work, I go do some castings for commercials, I’m still doing voiceovers. The nice thing about commercials is that it’s so locum. It’s not permanent. There are a couple of days where I’ll be doing a commercial and then the next day I’m with my kids again. It’s not like a full-time commitment. It’s part-time which is great for my kids as well because then I get to spend time with them while they are still young. When they are older, who knows what I’m going to do? Go back to medicine, maybe do more of that or maybe there will be more shows, hopefully, but right now they need me. So that’s my priority.
Is a career in the arts something that you are trying to encourage for your kids or do you try to sway them more towards other career options?
I don’t mind what they do. I’d love them to do something that makes them happy but something that is also going to earn them a living. I’m quite realistic when it comes to that. You need to be able to stand on your own two feet without relying on anyone and that’s what I’m trying to instil in them. I wouldn’t push them either way. I would encourage them to do something that can potentially earn them a decent living, anywhere in the world and whatever job it may be. If it’s something that they can earn a living without relying on someone else, go for it. If they still have a passion and want to do theatre, they can do that but then knowing that they have the option to earn a living for themselves doing whatever it is if it doesn’t succeed or if they don’t get shows. You never know, especially in this industry. It’s so fickle. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Someone might like you, someone might not like you. They just need to know that they can do something and earn a living.
Is there anything still on your career bucket list?
Les Mis has always been my dream. To be anything in Les Mis, that would be my number one. I don’t know why it hasn’t come back to the country. That is on my bucket list. It would be a dream come true. The older you get, sadly, the fewer ingenue roles there are. Ingenues are now 20’s or early 20’s even. I’m realistic about it. I’m not stupid. There’s certain roles that I can do and certain roles that I can’t do but Les Mis is for everyone so we’ll see.
In the context of your performing career, what do you feel is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I think the best piece of advice was, “Lindy, do something else that you can earn a living from and then if want to have a career in the performing arts, do it but know that you can always back yourself.” With my case, it’s medicine and I have kept up the medicine. I go to all the GP conferences and I keep up my points. I do that to have that there in the knowledge that if I need to, I can. For me, I think that’s probably the greatest thing. In the industry, there are a lot of kids who want to do this who are very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed who are so keen and it’s great. We need that in the industry but I think we also need to be realistic that there are only a certain number of roles and a certain number of people to fill those roles. We just need to be realistic in what roles we could potentially get and what we can do in case we don’t get those roles [and] what other avenues we have to earn a living.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Diane Wilson. I just think she’s great. She is so talented. She takes no nonsense and she’s strong-willed and nurturing and loving at the same time which I love about her. She is so strong and yet she is so loving and that, for me, is an amazing combination. She really inspires me. My mom Cheryl Abromovitz also stands out for me. She’s also managed to balance her career and her family and she’s been working since day dot. She hasn’t stopped and she is still going now. She’s amazing and she’s always got the best advice. She just knows what to say and knows what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m flabbergasted because as a mom, I’m thinking, “Do I sound like that to my kids? I don’t think so.” Because she is always right. Whatever she says is spot on so I can only hope I can be like that for my kids in time.
Special thanks to Dean Roberts.