Tuesday, October 24, 2006

still holding the man

If you've checked my profile you'll know that I list Timothy Conigrave's memoir Holding the Man as one of my favourite books. Sadly, Tim died in 1994 with his book being posthumously published to much acclaim the following year. As well as being a popular seller, Holding the Man received the 1995 Human Rights Award for Non-fiction. I've read the book a couple of times and what I love about it is the gutwrenching love story between Conigrave (who went on to become an actor) and his partner of 15 years, John Caleo. The pair met in high school during the '70s and their story has become a watershed in Australian literature, being described recently as "our version of Romeo & Juliet." Tragically they both contracted HIV/AIDS with John dying two years before Tim.

Before I'd read the book myself (and based on reviews and word of mouth) I bought Holding the Man as a Christmas gift for a friend (my first boyfriend actually - though our days of being lovers were long gone by this stage). The day I bought it I was returning home on the tram when I saw a girl sitting opposite me reading her own copy of the book. I asked her what she thought of it, telling her I'd just bought a copy for a friend. She said she couldn't put it down. My friend's reaction was the same. I remember him telling me he blubbed his way through it to the end. That's how I reacted when I read it (each time). It's such an engrossing, moving account of first love.

Fast forward to 2000. A friend was performing in a play at the Opera House and invited me along to see the show one night. After that evening's performance we sat having drinks with a few cast members as well as an actress I'd never met before, Veronica, who was performing in another play in the Opera House's other theatre. At one stage Veronica and I got talking and I asked her who she'd gone through NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) with. She mentioned the name of an actor I'm familiar with (who I'm a big fan of actually - and the object of yet another crush). Now this actor gets a decent mention in Holding the Man as one of Conigrave's fellow students, so I realised Veronica must've gone through NIDA with Tim Conigrave as well. I asked her about this and it turns out not only were they in the same year but they were also very close friends. In fact Conigrave writes about her a lot in the book. This was a great discovery to me and gave me a feeling of somehow being one step closer to... I don't know - the book, the author? Whatever it was I was pretty impressed to meet a character from arguably my favourite book. And now for some kooky twists...

Like me, Veronica was a huge fan of Number 96 when she was a kid. In fact I don't think I'm skewing the facts when I say it influenced her decision to pursue an acting career. Ditto.

A short while after meeting Veronica I met Laura, also an actress (though our meeting was not connected to the theatre at all). In conversation one day Laura told me she'd interviewed Tim Conigrave and Veronica for the Equity magazine - so here was another connection to the book and its author.

Lo and behold I'm looking through a box of my memorabilia one day when I come across the one copy I have of the Equity magazine (a memento from my time many years before as a paid up member of the Union). I flick through the old magazine and there's THE interview Laura had done with the two up and coming NIDA graduates. I was thrilled with this discovery.

In December 2001 I was out drinking with Carole (another actress who unbeknownst to me had worked a lot with Laura) when I met Scotty, my now ex-boyfriend (see Still Standing - my original post). I've written about Scotty's cousin before - an actress (see I've Heard It All Before). She is, in fact, Veronica.

We're coming to the end, I promise!

Now, more than 10 years after Holding the Man was first published, Griffin Theatre Company has recently announced plans to adapt Tim's memoir for the stage. Holding the Man will have its world premiere next month.

Being on Griffin Theatre Company's email list I often respond to give-aways, but have never been successful. An email came through earlier this afternoon offering a chance to win one of 5 double passes to see Holding the Man and I replied straight away. I was overly confident I'd win this time - and I did! I'm so grateful, I'm still over the moon. My first choice for a date was Laura because lately she's taken me to see so many great shows as her guest. Although she's the obvious choice, it wasn't until she accepted that I was reminded of her own connection to this wonderful book, soon-to-be play and author.

As far as I'm concerned it's all about the workings of the marvellous Universe. And I can't wait to see the play!


Blogger jason said...

I didn't know anything about Holding The Man or Tim Conigrave/John Caleo until a friend of mine asked me if I would like to see the play last Tuesday as he had a spare ticket. I thought what a nice way to spend a Tuesday and wasn't to know the impact this play would have on me. I am 34 and have been in my relationship for 13 years. The funny thing is that I can see so many similarities in the personalities of Tim and John in my own relationship. I am more like Tim, outgoing, social, a flirter, creative, extroverted. My partner is an introvert, a logical thinker, more considerate than I could ever hope to be and foremost above anything, totally committed to me. The play made me realise had we been around 15 years earlier, we could have been in the same situation as we ourselves had a break of 3 months at my instigation. Had it not been for my awareness of the consequences of playing the field, things could be very different. This story has had a profound affect on my outlook and I appreciate my partner, our friendships and family so much more. It made me realise how fragile life is and that I am truly blessed to have someone in my life who is stable, sincere and adorable and who loves me warts and all. I took it for granted. I was so excited reading your blog about mutual friends with Tim and envied you for having first hand information about what he was like in person, hearing about the experience from a personal perspective of a friend and to ask questions. I have since purchased the book and I'm afraid to say I am almost infatuated in finding out information on the guys and their life together. I can't find any pictures other than those provided on alphabet and understand totally what you mean by feeling closer to the play or its author. I would love to hear any additional information you care to share about your friends memories of their time with the guys and also any pointers on where I can find photographs or memorabilia of their lives. Jason

February 28, 2007 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just read your post. can you tell me what issue of Equity magazine you had?

Thanks for sharing:) the universe is an amazing place.

January 19, 2014 8:36 PM  
Blogger nash said...

I've just checked and the edition of Equity was June 1987

January 24, 2014 9:33 PM  
Blogger rebecca zanol said...

Thank you for this information Nash. (it was my comment above)

I am a research assistant helping with the documentary John&Tim, which is currently in post production with Waterbyrd Filmz in Melbourne. Online profile is http://www.documentaryaustralia.com.au/films/details/1634/john-and-tim.

I would love to see the article. Do you still have a copy?

My contact is rzanol@me.com.

March 08, 2014 4:11 PM  

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