Sunday, 22 July 2012

Holding the Man - A Personal Reflection

Last week, a film crew landed in my living room. I was to be interviewed for a documentary called John and Tim, being made by Waterbyrd Filmz, about the lives of John Caleo and Timothy Conigrave. Conigrave wrote Holding the Man, a candid and magical memoir of his 15-year relationship with Caleo.

I was being interviewed because I directed the theatrical adaptation of the book. In 2005, as Artistic Director of Sydney's Griffin Theatre Company, I commissioned Tommy Murphy to adapt the memoir. By November 2006 we had it onstage at the Stables Theatre. We remounted it six times, including at the Sydney Opera House, Belvoir and Melbourne Theatre Company, and most recently in 2010 in London's West End. There have been productions in San Francisco and Auckland, with others coming up. For such a particular Australian story, it's a remarkable trajectory.

Conigrave was born in 1959 and went to Xavier College in Melbourne, an elite Jesuit school (also attended by Bill Shorten and Sir Les Patterson). Tim, who wanted to be an actor, fell in love with John, the captain of the football team. They declared themselves boyfriends in 1976. Tim went to NIDA while John became a chiropractor. Despite unrelenting obstacles, they remained together until John's death on Australia Day, 1992.

Holding the Man is one of the great love stories, and is unsurpassed as an account of the devastation caused by HIV/AIDS in Sydney during the '80s and '90s. If any book can be guaranteed to make you cry, it's this one. It does so, I think, for a range of complex reasons, not the least of which is that it describes a rare love with irresistible candour.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Towards Diversity: La Boite Unlocked

Last night, La Boite Theatre Company hosted a fascinating forum called Towards Diversity. It linked two areas of current interest in the Australian theatre: gender equity and cultural diversity. Both, of course, speak to one of the leading questions of the forum: What are the forces that prevent our theatres from adequately reflecting the society in which they operate? 

These two topics arise at this time because of special circumstances. On 24 April, the Australia Council released a report on Women in Theatre. It highlighted a very real problem of gender equity within Australian theatre. It's been a much spoken about topic since the announcement of Neil Armfield’s final season at the then Company B in September 2009, at which the sight of a stage full of bright young men, and just one woman, got people talking. The second topic springs from the upcoming appointment of a two year, fulltime Theatre Diversity Associate, to be shared between La Boite, Queensland Theatre Company, Metro Arts and BEMAC, Queensland’s lead agency dedicated to identifying, developing, presenting and promoting artists from diverse multicultural backgrounds. This appointment was one of the top 10 recommendations of the 2011 Australian Theatre Forum to the Australia Council, and is funded by the Australia Council and Arts Queensland. The aim is to increase our collective engagement with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) artists and audiences.

I was joined by Jo Pratt, the Director/Executive Producer of BEMAC, and Kate Foy, an actor, former academic and former Chair of QTC. It was terrific to be able to share thoughts about these areas of concern. Kate has uploaded her contribution to her blog, Greenroom. It's well worth a read. My contribution can be found here.