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Holding that chin fiercely up to the world

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HAVING a blast with rollerskates and beer. Lara Lipschitz with (from far right) Reg Hart, Pulane Rampoana and Dionne Song. Photograph by Patrick Toselli.

SOUTH AFRICAN PERFORMER Lara Lipschitz very rapidly dispossesses you of stereotypical beliefs that women comedians need to be unbeautiful, fat and self-deprecating in order to be funny. Okay, hold that self-deprecating angle a little: in her third season of her self-designed, -directed and -written web series, Chin Up!, in which she plays the central character, she develops her character base, reflecting with pizzazz and hilariously on the South African sense of identity, the South African theatre industry and the hardships a young white thespian faces in growing a career. The work is fresh and witty, it’s well-honed and empathetic, but doesn’t lose any of the laughs.

But it may be that Lipschitz herself will be the one to laugh last: This series has been several years in development. And it’s not just about an ego being let loose on a screenplay in the absence of so-called real work. Far from it, in fact. During the time that Lipschitz has been developing Chin Up!, she’s become recognisable on stage and the small screen, with performances in works such as Bad Jews, Cabaret and Isidingo, the SABC soapie, to name a few.

But that’s not all. Chin Up! is a project that is as much about the creative spark of writing good comedy as it is about reining in the marketing monster and enabling money and art to stand on the same page without flinching. At her private launch of Chin Up!’s third season recently, Lipschitz, who in 2017 won best actress on a web series in the NYC Web Fest Awards, in which her series was showcased as part of the awards’ official selection (and the only African web series of its kind), she announced that she’s actively seeking international buyers for the series.

Tossing your hat into the proverbial ring is a brave act, but a necessary one if you want the world to take you and your work seriously. Chin Up! is out there: the production and post-production is glossy and professional and it’s a product with the chutzpah and the kahunas to change the notion of theatre making and storytelling, not only for Lipschitz and her team, which includes director of photography Devin Toselli, a stream of South African theatre talent, from Sue Pam-Grant, Roberto Pombo, Tony Miyambo to Sonia Esgueira, James Cuningham and more, but also for the industry itself.

Series one and two set the tone for the tale of a young theatre graduate with earnest dreams and hopes but a life that’s rotten with embarrassing disappointments. The scenarios are hilarious but feasible in the eye of a cruel industry premised on things that often have nothing to do with one’s stage skills. In series three, we meet the “Lara” character again. She’s moving from Cape Town back to Johannesburg, to investigate greener pastures. She finds many things, including jeans in a tv studio that are three sizes too small, roller skating skills and ear wax in alarming contexts. She finds a sexy PA and comes head to head with hilarious Lipschitz jokes at the hands of a cop, but ultimately, the rollercoaster narrative of the young actress proceeds with abandon.

This is the kind of work that should have the likes of HBO slavering at the bit to get their creative teeth and their international audiences into. Ultimately, it’s a home grown spot of creativity that demonstrates South African prowess, commitment and skill. You’ll be proud to say you saw it here first.

  • Chin Up! is written, produced, directed and performed by Lara Lipschitz, with photography by Devin Toselli; it is edited by Mushroom Media and Priest Post Production and features final mix by Produce and the Music Works, with colour grading by Nic Apostoli. Season 3 is performed by Oli Booth, Charlie Bouguenon, James Cuningham, Sonia Esguiera, Lara Lipschitz, Makgotoso M, Loyiso Macdonald, Ntosh Madlingozi, Momo Matsunyane, Sue Pam Grant, Roberto Pombo, Puli Rampoana, Asher Stolz, Claudine Ullman and Bryan Van Niekerk.
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