'Side Show' opened Bradley University's 2013-2014 theatre season

October 10, 2013

By: Savannah Jones

Actors are usually expected to grow close with their co-stars, but Bradley’s fall musical “Side Show” took this idea to a new extreme. Senior and sophomore Department of Theatre Arts majors Morgan Green and Hannah Williams played conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who gained fame during The Great Depression.  Side Show focused on a troupe of traveling side show “freaks”, from the bearded lady to a lizard man. Green and Williams admitted they were hesitant to take on the roles of conjoined twins.

“It was challenging. We had to practice walking,” Williams said. “We did laps around Markin’s track and practiced how to turn corners, do stairs and run.”

“I had to always think about the other person and how to move as one as opposed to two. They [Daisy and Violet] lived their entire lives together and I had one month to figure out what they did for years,” Green said.

The show tied together several true stories and dramaturgy Travis Stern provided the cast and crew with a “framework and context”.  Side show carnivals became popular during the early 20th century, displaying performers doing unusual feats like sword swallowers or contortionists, however the main attraction was usually “freaks”, those with deformities- born with or made.

Side Show took the lives of people you usually consider actual freaks and made them human and you understood they have real desires, needs and wants,” Green said.

“No question that people found the conjoined twin aspect the initial draw, but they were also attractive young women and had created a viable singing and dancing act,” Stern said. “Some people cited their spirit - they had no self-pity about the situation they were in and achieved a considerable amount - while others never saw past the novelty,” Stern said.

Green and William’s characters were based on actual conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Their mother sold the twins after childbirth in 1908. The women who bought them trained the sisters in music and dance. Eventually the sisters gained independence from their managers and formed their own act in 1931. They went on to star in two movies until their fame waned and they worked at a grocery store until their deaths in 1969.

Green and Williams admitted playing characters based on true people was a rewarding challenge. Green said while the role was “frustrating” at time, understanding what Daisy and Violet went through made her acting more “realistic”. The role was “slightly more daunting” for Williams but she said it was a “privilege” to tell an actual person’s story in a show with a strong message for everyone.

“The message of the show is ‘self-love’, accepting all of the freaks in us,” Williams said. “If you don’t love yourself, how can you love anybody else?”