As conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton made their way down the red carpet at a New Year’s Eve party, a woman approached them.
“Whatever you are, don’t you want to be normal?” she asked.
“Whoever you are, don’t you?” Violet responded.
The interaction is a scene in Temple Theaters’ fall musical “Side Show,” being performed at the Tomlinson Theater until Sunday. “Side Show” tells the real-life story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who took the entertainment business by storm with their theatrical and burlesque shows before appearing in the 1932 film “Freaks.”
While society viewed the twins as odd, Violet and Daisy Hilton didn’t feel they were disabled or abnormal. Senior musical theater and acting major Rita Castagna plays Daisy Hilton in the musical and said she aimed to portray this in her performance.
“It’s about embracing what makes you different,” Castagna added. “Don’t see yourself as a deviation or a caveat to anything. See yourself as a freak and celebrate that, don’t live in spite of it.”
Born in Brighton, England in 1908, the twins’ birth mother Kate Skinner sold them to Mary Hilton, a midwife who delivered them. Hilton was the first of many to use the twins as a business venture before they headlined their uncle’s sideshow, a circus exhibit that showcases physical oddities or “freaks,” after Hilton died.
The musical is set in America during the 1930s, a period during which the characters have trouble expressing and accepting themselves due to social norms. The Hiltons search for true love and acceptance while overcoming exploitation and prejudice and building a career in entertainment.
Daisy Hilton is the brassy, confident, sister, while Violet Hilton is the vulnerable, emotional sister.
In the show, society mistreats many of the characters because of their race, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Sophomore musical theater major Alexa Joseph, who plays Violet Hilton, said she hopes audiences take away the show’s themes of embracing uniqueness, expressing love and learning how society isolates people who are different.
“When they can connect to it, and accept emotional differences, people can take it into the world and be less prone to isolate or treat different people differently,” Joseph said. “People can connect with it because of the feelings they hide deep down inside themselves.”
Freshman musical theater major Sebastien Diaquoi plays the “half-man-half-woman,” a “Side Show” character who represents the ability to openly express sexuality.
“Back then, people were not open with their sexualities,” Diaquoi said. “Especially the main character Buddy, who is a closeted homosexual. When he comes to the sideshow and sees me, I represent a home where you could live openly.”
He added that throughout history, people of color were involved in sideshow exhibits solely because of the color of their skin. In this way, the musical also explores racism in the 1930s.
A scene in the musical depicts an African American character confessing his love for a Hilton sister, but she rejects him because she was worried what people would think.
Despite some racist and homophobic scenes in the show, Castagna said instead of being afraid of the musical’s message, audiences should revel in the truth the show presents, especially regarding the treatment of others.
For Joseph, she hopes audiences connect with the show so they can carry the message of embracing differences with them after the curtains close.
“In every person there is something that makes them feel like a freak and afraid of not being accepted,” Joseph said. “If everyone understands that feeling, we wouldn’t be so quick to isolate others. ‘Side Show’ is entirely a representation of that.”