Sunday, November 19, 2017

Born Today in 1959: 'Holding the Man' Author Tim Conigrave

Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

Tim Conigrave was born today, November 19, in 1959.  He was an Australian actor, writer, and activist.

Conigrave was born in Melbourne, and attended the Jesuit-run Xavier College, and later Monash University.

Conigrave later moved to Sydney to study at National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), graduating in 1984. Two years later he was instrumental in initiating the acclaimed Soft Targets (1986) project at Sydney's Griffin Theatre Company, where for a period he served on the board of directors.

He appeared in such plays as Brighton Beach Memoirs, As Is, and On Top of the World. He was also a playwright, producing works including Thieving Boy, Like Stars in your Hands and The Blitz Kids.

His major work, the autobiographical Holding the Man (1995), is the story of his 15-year love affair with John Caleo. They met as students at Xavier College; Caleo was captain of the football team and Conigrave wanted to be an actor. Conigrave finished the book shortly before dying of an AIDS-related illness. It won the 1995 United Nations Award for Non-Fiction.

Holding the Man has been adapted into a multi-award-winning play by Tommy Murphy. The premiere production was at Griffin Theatre Company. It later played a return season at Griffin, February–March 2007, where it also sold out, before transferring to the Sydney Opera House for a third sell-out season, 9–26 May 2007. There were three more successful additional seasons. In 2010 it played in London's Trafalgar Studios. There have also been productions in San Francisco, Auckland, New Zealand, and most recently was a 2014 production in Los Angeles.

On 27 August 2015 a film version of Holding The Man opened in cinemas across Australia. The film is directed by Neil Armfield and features Ryan Corr (Tim) and Craig Stott (John).

A documentary based on the lives of Tim Conigrave and John Caleo, Remembering the Man, premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival in October 2015. The Guardian said "this film goes straight (so to speak) to the gay pool room" when it placed Remembering the Man on its list of Australia's 10 best LGBT films. FilmInk called the film a "Beautifully crafted documentary" and noted that "Despite the tragedy that is at the heart of this documentary, it, like Holding The Man, is a peculiarly uplifting and hopeful film. Operatic even. Tim would have liked that."

Remembering the Man won the Audience Awards for best documentary at the Adelaide Film Festival 2015, Sydney's Mardi Gras Film Festival 2016 and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016. The film also won the David McCarthy Award for best documentary at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016, the jury prize for best documentary at the MiFo LGBT Festival 2016 and the award for Best Documentary (Biography) and the 2015 ATOM Awards. The documentary's directors, Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe, were nominated for best direction of a feature documentary at the 2016 ADG Australian Director's Guild Awards.

Conigrave and Caleo were diagnosed with HIV in 1985. They remained relatively healthy until 1990. In 1991, Caleo was diagnosed with cancer. Conigrave nursed Caleo, despite fighting his own illness. John Caleo died on Australia Day, January 26 1992, aged 31. Tim Conigrave died on October 18, 1994, aged 34.

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