“You want me to do WHAT?!” A still from Lara Lipschitz’s Chin Up. Photgraphy: Devin Toselli.
Actress Lara Lipschitz (26) has enjoyed stints in local soapie, Isidingo and top musical Jersey Boys, but she’s hungry for more: “I’ve always wanted to make my own show,” she told the SA Jewish Report recently, in speaking of her series of YouTube films, Chin Up. <<A version of this story appeared in the print version of the SA Jewish Report.>>
“It’s about stuff that happens to me as a career actress that I think is funny. Putting my work out there is about the accessibility of the internet, and it’s free. I’m a kind of a late bloomer,” she blushes. “I’m young, I should know about the internet, but it has taken me a long time to get connected to the world. I’ve also realised that there aren’t so many people who are doing it. There’s really only a handful of people doing it, including Anne Hirsch, and Derek Watts and the Sunday Blues guys… so there’s basically this space. And it’s not oversaturated.
“If you monetise the video, with advertising putting out work on YouTube has potential to make money. If you reach 20 000 views in South Africa, you earn money every time someone views your video.” She’s not that concerned about this side of things, yet; “I know that there’s currently a phenomenon of professional Youtubers – who are mostly teenagers – who speak dirty in the camera, or whatever – and have millions of followers.
“In terms of making money, I believe there’s potential for it to become a show or the seed of a show, which is one of the other reasons I’m doing it.
“I have tried to do random jobs, which are related to the film and theatre world, like styling or make up or research, but I don’t enjoy any of them. I’m prepared to work hard. I’m prepared to work for free on my own stuff or on acting stuff.
“Also this show has made me realise how much I love this kind of work. It’s also enabled me to give voice to a new dream for myself. I would like to become a producer and have my own production company. There’s space for it in South Africa. There’s not enough here.”
“I’m loving the creative process. It’s more satisfying than being in any production. You think: here’s my idea; let me write it down. Who can I cast? Are they available? Where can we shoot? You organise the whole thing. Shoot it. Edit it. And put it out there. And it’s like wow! It’s real.”
While Lipschitz plays the main role in Chin Up, she is supported by performances from other people in the acting fraternity, including her contemporaries and friends, Aimee Goldsmith and Claudine Ullman as well as established performer, James Cuningham. “James is a dear friend of mine. He lectured me a little at Wits, and he’s helped me enormously. But it was with some trepidation that I approached him to play my father!” she laughs. “I didn’t want to insult him. But he was very amenable. I have a well known face or a famous person in every one of my episodes and getting them to perform without the expectation of being paid hasn’t been hard for me. They want to be part of something cool and original.”
Very cognisant of the fact that people must be paid in order to earn a living, she adds, “they’re very aware that this is a passion project, and it’s a favour.” And it may well have creative babies.
This new step in her career has been a long time coming, but it also represents an important break in routine for her. “Jersey Boys was an amazing experience,” she’s unequivocal. “I didn’t originally audition for it, and then I auditioned for Dirty Dancing, which was at the same time. I didn’t get in. But someone was cast for Jersey Boys and she pulled out”… the short end of the tale was that she auditioned over Skype and became part of the Jersey Boys company, as an offstage swing.
“I’d never been in a big musical. It was a crash course for me. As a swing, you have to learn multiple roles, multiple versions of the same song. I played three different roles. It’s frustrating to be an offstage swing. You have to be there, for every performance, all warmed up and ready and on standby. And if no one needs you, you go home at the end of the performance, without having performed at all. And it’s a lot of waiting.
“That took its toll on my soul and my ego. I went with them to Singapore, and I was with them for three months, which was amazing. And then it came to Jo’burg and I got to perform all three roles a few times. But I will never be a swing again. It’s a thankless job, and it’s the hardest, in so many ways: for one thing, you’ve got to be as good as the cast when you go on.
“With this show in particular, it’s hectic, because it’s fast paced and tight. If you’re one beat off, you can ruin the whole show. I travelled with it to Cape Town.” The next leg of Jersey Boys’ tour was Korea and Kuala Lumpur and it was then that Lipschitz’s contract came to an end and she elected not to renew it.
“It was a weird decision for an actress, because there are not lots of jobs out there waiting for you. And it was a decision that was made the more difficult because they offered me Carmen Pretorius’ role as she tot into The Sound of Music. But my mind was made up.
“I really needed a break. I wanted to come back and make my own work,” she is earnest about the idea of getting Jersey Boys fatigue. “You have to keep getting re-inspired and re-motivated, somewhere, somehow, all the time. The audience can tell if you’re bored with your role.
“It’s like being in a soapie,” she adds. “You have to really love your role. For example, if I got Sally Bowles from Cabaret, I would do it for five years and not mind, but for just a chorus person, it must get really boring.”
After Jersey Boys, she did one commercial – “which was like winning the lottery: I had auditioned for hundreds!”, she got a new agent, and she has been “auditioning and auditioning and auditioning and auditioning and getting callbacks and almost getting a movie and almost getting a series… and then nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing… and then I was going out of my mind. I need to be active. I need to take control of my career. I can’t just sit around and wait for an audition because they are so few and far between, for my look or whatever.
Chin Up, which is about having courage in the face of creative failure, doesn’t romanticise. “It’s a little sad,” she chortles. “But acting is not a glamorous career choice at all. I’m not showing the good parts. There are a lot of successful parts in my career. The bad parts are the funnier ones. The agent, for the record, is not based on my current agent. And my dad is not a dentist,” she grins. “But he does relate to the material. It’s really rewarding when people laugh.”
Each episode is about 6 minutes in length: “I will aim for a shorter length, going forward, which I’ve learned is more pragmatic. There are different contexts in which it gets seen. If it was on television, it would be 18 minutes.” She’s currently writing a pilot episode of that length, even without knowing the ardency of the market for this type of thing in South Africa.
“It does get disheartening, at times, but then I remember why I’m doing it. It’s growing me as writer, actress, producer… it’s so much easier to complain. I know there are millions of flaws, but if I were to think about every issue, I wouldn’t put it out. It would paralyse me. I don’t have a budget.”
Her photographer boyfriend Devin Toselli is assisting her with the project, which they started late last year. Chin Up now has five editions.
Next Thursday evening from 19:00, Wolves in Illovo hosts the official launch of Lipschitz’s Chin Up series. The event will feature screening of all five episodes plus live performances from local bands Stolen Pony and Yo Grapes, which feature in Chin Up (011)447-2360.