What has it been like to star in the critically acclaimed coming of age, hit play “Holding the Man”?
The experience of working on this story and playing the role of John Caleo has been a gift. Every day, I’m so grateful for this experience and am counting my blessings I’m being given the honor to be a part of telling Tim and John’s story.
What has been the best part of doing this show?
The best part of doing this show has been the personal growth I’ve experienced. Our director, Larry Moss, and fellow cast members are not only a bunch of inspiring people to work with but for me, to really let myself open up as an actor and do what I’ve spent years training to do has been wonderful. In my 5 years in LA, this is without a doubt the most challenging and rewarding opportunity I’ve had; after years of TV auditions, I was so hungry for this and I’m so glad to be doing it.
How has the audience reaction been to the show? And have you had any celebrities back you guys in the production, and love the show?
I haven’t seen any celebrities at the show as of yet, a lot of Australian talent has come to see it which we’re grateful for. Every audience is different but it always seems to end with them wiping the tears off their faces and a lot of enthusiasm after the show. It’s wonderful to know the story is effecting the audience each night and that they’re taking the journey with us.
How do you and your love interest Tim fall in love in the show?
Tim and John meet at Xavier College which is a private Catholic all boys school in Melbourne. John was the popular football jock and the two just click and form a very close relationship through their high school years that takes them through a journey together into their adulthood. John being shy socially, Tim seems to be the one who asked John out, and behind closed doors, he said ‘yes’. What followed was a lot of rumors and whispers through the school.
What scene in the show is your favorite?
To pick a favorite scene. It’s probably one that I’m not in as I’ve had a chance to sit and watch those. I love the circle jerk scene in act one a lot – it’s both hilarious and quite touching. Actually, Act II, there’s a scene where Tim and John spend a night in a hotel at Sydney’s Circular Quay with a view of the Opera House; I love both the complexity and simplicity of the scene. It’s so honest, and while they’re both sick, there’s a truth and beauty to how honest they both are with each other; I think it’s a really powerful moment for them.
Was this show a personal challenge for you as a performer with having to take on such an iconic role and get every aspect of a gay character so spot on?
It was really intimidating to me. I’d seen the pay in Sydney and John is such a pure character, so open hearted and all about unconditional love – I was really scared. Also the fact that this man actually lived, he has a family, and friends, I did not shy away from the responsibility of honoring his life and giving him as much life as I could – he sounds like he was a such a beautiful person, it breaks my heart that he’s not here with us now.
In terms of playing gay character, I’ve played gay roles before, and a lot of straight roles too. There isn’t much difference between the two for me. I try to stay away from cliché, and especially with gay roles, I think the public needs to be presented with very different representations of gay men and women to break the stereotypes I see a lot on American television and in film. John was an everyday guy – he didn’t want to stand out. He loved his football, he loved Tim and loved his family; the story lets the audience know he was in a gay relationship, also the fact that I’m kissing a male actor – I think that’s enough to let the audience know about his sexual orientation. I tried to focus on the aspects of who John was aside from that because I think it speaks for itself; I don’t think you can really perform or play ‘gay’ or ‘straight’.
What does this show teach us about love, and acceptance in this world today?
I think there’s a lot we can learn from Tim and John’s story. Firstly about honesty and being open hearted. I think if everyone was as confident in themselves as John, as honest, fearless and as open hearted, we would be in a different world. Also aside from the idea of loving someone completely, even with their flaws and Tim had a lot (as did John I’m sure), I think we can learn to remember and acknowledge just how many people were affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that took place in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s not taught about in schools, and I think within the community there is a shame about it and a disregard for those who suffered, died and those who survived it. There’s a complacency happening in the younger generations who seem to believe that you only need to use a condom if you don’t want to get pregnant; the HIV infection rate is on the rise again and with the younger generations and it comes from a lack of education, it’s sad and really quite scary to me.
How is this show different from the new highly anticipated HBO movie “The Normal Heart” which deals with the AIDS epidemic?
I’ve not seen the film yet, I’m looking forward to watching it this Sunday. I’m aware of the play though. People may dismiss both stories as “AIDS plays” but there’s a lot more to it than that. Both stories are deeply political, and the differences lie in the way the story is told as well as the cultural differences. ‘Holding the Man’ is a very Australian story and while it deals with HIV/AIDS, it is first and foremost a love story; I think which is why people are so moved by it. The Normal Heart seems to speak more to the initial response and effects on the community as a whole, our story focuses on two specific people and is very much a biographical story about these two men.
What do you find so intriguing about the character John?
I mentioned it above but I’m fascinated by him. I look at photos of him every night before each performance and I’m just in awe of his bravery. He was the Captain of the school Football team, everyone knew who he was and he put it all on the line to follow his heart, and in a Catholic boy’s school at a time when homosexuality was illegal. And he suffers for it, socially, personally, professionally and in the end physically but he keeps fighting the whole way for what is in his heart. His bravery and conviction in himself is something that should be honored and respected; the fact that he suffered for these qualities is devastating to me but in the end, he loved as hard as he could, it doesn’t get much fuller than that.
How does John deal with the frustration and hardships that him and Tim’s relationship goes through?
I think John deals with his hurt and frustrations very privately. He was the opposite of Tim, he wasn’t so interested in being an activist, and I think for him, being in a relationship was a big enough statement for him. But he covers his hurt and focuses on the positive in every situation. When Tim hurts him, breaks up with him, he goes for the positive, even when he’s dying, he chooses to take a 10% survival rate of chemo therapy rather than to take 6 months of quality of live. It again, goes back to his nature of being a fighter. I believe deep down for all the hurt John was feeling from his family and from Tim’s promiscuity, he knew that Tim loved him and part of John’s role in Tim’s life was to make Tim love himself.
AIDS is an unfortunate topic in this show, how do the characters deal with the issue of AIDS? And how through they’re portrayal do they educate people about this disease that was so scary for people at one time in life?
AIDS becomes very private for the two of them; they limit who they tell. It’s only when the illness starts to show on them physically, John especially, do they begin to tell their friends and families. It’s such a savage disease, and I think it’s something we need to acknowledge. So many parents lost their sons just like Tim and John. I actually think Tim and John deal with it better than I would, the fear at the time was so huge, everyone was talking about this disease and being so quick to blame it on the gay population which I think has echoed through the community even to this day. We’re so lucky now there’s treatment for those living with HIV but it’s still no less scary to me today actually because something like this could always happen again. I mentioned above, I’m saddened by the complacency that exists within the younger generations towards this virus.
What kind of discrimination does John face in this show, and from whom particularly is not accepting of his lifestyle and new boyfriend?
I’d say his family first and foremost. They have no support or regard for Tim or their son’s relationship to him. There is a moment where John makes a choice and choses Tim over his father which is heartbreaking. A man who had so much love and respect for his son, the Captain of the football team, and they tear apart. And while it’s not mentioned too much in the show, John was headed for an amazing career as a football player but being openly gay at a time when it was illegal, there’s no way he would have been allowed to play, in the end he settles to become a chiropractor.
What was it like having the show originally run in Australia, and then having the news that is would come over to the states, particularly California a predominantly gay city? Has this made the show any different to perform, knowing you are in a predominantly gay city?
Sydney and Melbourne both have a large gay population so I don’t feel like there’s much difference for bringing it to LA, it was more about the cultural differences. We have had a lot of support from the gay community and they seem to really enjoy it, also the Australian culture that comes through in the story. I think for LA locals, it’s a different version of the world they know, especially for the generations who were around in the 70’s and 80’s, it has a nostalgic quality, but with Aussie slang in it. If there was anything I’ve been telling my LA friends when they come, it’s “read the Aussie slang glossary in the back of the program!”
What is the best advice you can give to teenagers who are currently struggling with their sexual identity, and dealing with the same issues as John and Tim in the play?
My best advice would be to know that they are okay, there is no shame in what’s in your heart. It’s scary when you’re young, you can feel so alone and isolated (I know I did), but you’re never alone. We’re all going to make mistakes along the way but you can take comfort in knowing that people overcome hardships all the time and that while it may look bleak, you can live a full life being who you are, and there will always be people who will love you for that. The people who don’t, in the end don’t really matter because their issues and judgments’ are about them, not you. It took me years to realize that but if you focus on what brings you joy, you can get through the hard stuff. Before you know it, it’s behind you. And find people to look up to, to aspire to. Whether they’re artists, athletes, or family members, seeing others reach their own potential is a powerful thing.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
I’ve had a lot of incredible advice from people over the years, my family, acting teachers and friends, and it all seems to come back to the same thing. Trust yourself, and say ‘yes’.
What is in the future for Adam J. Yeend?
I wish I knew. I aiming for more growth, both as an artist and as a human being – I can always do better.