In his latest role, Emmett Skilton tackles the issue of climate change

Almighty Johnsons

actor Emmett Skilton is studying weather and climate modelling through online university courses to prepare for his role as a climate scientist in the play

Between Two Waves

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As well as extramural study through the University of Queensland and the University of Chicago, Skilton has interviewed climate scientists and called on Almighty Johnsons fans to share reflections on how global warming is affecting them. Stories about North American towns where trees are dying because winters are no longer cold enough to kill parasitic insects have left him more concerned about the issue.

"People are inclined to look around and say, 'oh well, it's just weather' but I think the scepticism about climate change has died down and there's much more appreciation that it's really happening," he says. "It was important for me to be as accurate as possible in my portrayal and given my character is meant to be one of the leading climate modellers in the country, advising the New Zealand Government, I wanted to know exactly what I was saying."

A supporter of animal rights organisations, Skilton says despite his growing concern about climate change and the study he's been doing, he is not about to change his career. As an actor, he's in an ideal position to tell stories, which motivate audiences into taking more notice of such issues.

"One of the benefits of being an actor is that you get to explore all sorts of human lives and stories. You carry stories and messages and share something with an audience that they might not have thought much about before. It's about telling stories showing a different side of life."

Described by the Sydney Morning Herald as "a gently unsettling portrait of the times we live in", Between Two Waves is billed as a romantic comedy. Climatologist Daniel loses a lifetime of research in the worst floods the country has recorded and he isn't in the mood for appreciating the irony that he should have predicted the weather. An anxious soul who's worried about the future, he also has to deal with the news that he and girlfriend Fiona (Go Girls' Shara Connolly) are about to start a family.

Written by Australian playwright and actor Ian Meadows, the play debuted in 2012 at Sydney's Griffin Theatre. Between Two Waves' New Zealand producer and actor Leanne Frisbie, who directs ethical Auckland PR agency Passion PR, saw the premiere in Sydney and was so moved she went backstage to ask Meadows for the New Zealand rights.

She says seeing Between Two Waves was a life-defining moment because without being preachy, it carries a powerful message bound to get people talking. Here, she makes her professional theatre debut as a stressed-out insurance adjustor.

"My character finds herself stuck at someone's house in a flood, caused by climate change and working in an industry directly affected by it, but still can't see it or bring herself to deal with the issue. It's getting in the way of life which, I think, is how most people see it. That needs to change."

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This production is set here thanks to re-writes by Meadows, who has worked closely with the team. It includes set designer Jessika Verryt, lighting designer and production manager Nik Januerik and director Peter Feeney who also plays Daniel's boss.

Feeney says the script adroitly combines the personal and political.

He agrees with Skilton that in the three years since Between Two Waves was first performed, the scepticism around climate change has abated, with debate shifting to questions of who is responsible and what to do to mitigate its effects.

"Those with a vested interest in climate change denial have been in a position to hire PR companies with the resources to produce material which generates stories seeking to preserve the status quo; it's been far more difficult for those on the other side to get their message heard and our politicians are too scared of losing votes to take a strong stance. It's a subject we haven't seen a lot of on stage and I think it needs to be talked about in different forums."

What: Between Two Waves
Where and when: Herald Theatre, August 4-15