Tribes actor takes on challenge

19:47, Jun 20 2012
Emmett Skilton
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Young actor Emmett Skilton learned sign language for his role in Tribes.

Actors often get asked to do some unusual things - lose weight, gain weight, learn archery - but for two actors from the hit play Tribes, it was a case of finding new ways to speak to each other.

Emmett Skilton, a familiar face thanks to his role as Axl on TV3's Almighty Johnsons, and Leon Wadham, a recent Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School graduate, play brothers Daniel and Billy in the Silo Theatre Company production.

Described by Skilton as a story about "a dysfunctional family who think they are the most functional family in the world", Tribes is a rollercoaster journey of relationships and miscommunication.

However the family drama aside, it is writer Nina Raine's use of deaf characters that sets the play apart.  

Wadham and co-star Jodie Hillock have had to learn sign language to play the roles of Billy and Sylvia, one who has been deaf since birth and another who is slowly losing her hearing.

"[Learning sign language] was challenging, but really rewarding.  Jodie and I have been going to the deaf club in Balmoral every Friday, surrounding ourselves with fluent speakers and that has been fantastic," Wadham said.

"But because of the time we've had, we haven't been able to learn it fluently and that has been frustrating.  When you go to the deaf club and you see the conversations that are possible once you know and embody this language fully, that has been really inspiring to us and I think that has informed the work we've done on the stage and the way that we approached lines that we have got."

And Tribes gives Skilton his own communication challenge, as his character Daniel re-develops a stammer and manic depression during the play.  The actor says it took a long time to get to grips with Daniel's situation.

"It was about imitation until I could embody it and make it my own and figure it out, how it would happen in my own body if it were to happen.  It's a very challenging piece in that way.

"But the stronger and harder Daniel tries to find his voice, he actually loses it and he can no longer have the language to express what he wants to say.  Billy is finally finding a voice that he can express himself with in a larger community, and Daniel's is slowly shutting down on him."

While Skilton and Wadham, along with co-stars Hillock and Fern Sutherland, might be at the beginning of their careers, the addition of the experienced Michael Hurst and Catherine Wilkin has created a real tribe on and off stage.

"[The cast] is either veterans of the stage or very fresh to the stage or screen, and together we create a family, which behind the scenes we all bicker and argue and laugh and joke and prank each other and mock each other, and bringing that on to the stage each night is a lot of fun."


WHERE: Maidment Theatre

WHEN: Until June 30.


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