The Hilton Sisters Were Conjoined Twins. Side Show at Queensbury Tells Their Story.

(L-R) Holland Vavra and Teresa Zimmermann are about to be joined at the hip in the most literal sense.
(L-R) Holland Vavra and Teresa Zimmermann are about to be joined at the hip in the most literal sense. Photo by Christian Brown
Queensbury Theatre has chosen to end its 2018-19 season with a memorable musical based on the real lives of Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins (so-called Siamese twins in the day) who lived ever intertwined lives of love, exploitation, sadness and fame during the Great Depression.

The musical Side Show tells the story of the two sisters who shared no organs but were joined at the pelvis and rose to stardom despite or because of their connection. Teresa Zimmermann (For Tonight, Violet) and Holland Vavra (For Tonight, Elf) play the two sisters who were born in a time when doctors feared separation would lead to death for one or both of them. And given the medical capabilities of the time, those physicians were probably right.

The story takes them from their early days with a mother who gave them up thinking their condition was caused by her own unmarried sin, through their time with the circus and eventually vaudeville and to the point when they arrive in Hollywood to be part of the 1932 movie Freaks (as it turned out, not a joyous experience.) In the story told mostly through song, they are people trying to find their place in the world, looked down upon by the "normal" people, some of whom made money off of them.

And they were different as the two actors are quick to point out. 

"My Violet creates stability. She wants to settle down. She's definitely not as boisterous as her sister. She's a little bit of a hopeless romantic and a little bit shy and a little bit more reserved," Zimmermann says.

"I'm Daisy Hilton, the other half. She's far more outgoing, wants the spotlight, wants to be on vaudeville. I think vaudeville is something she's wanted for a very long time," Vavra says. "The  conflict is she has to get her conjoined sister to agree. She definitely wants to be famous and I think a lot of conflict happens because obviously one can’t do without the other. Shes's a little bit louder. She's a bit cheeky. But they’re very different considering they are together. Introvert and extrovert in one body."

Since the two actors don't have the same leg length, they had to figure out the best way to be attached and they finally settled on being joined at the thigh with an ace bandage.  "We're stepping with the inside leg and then stepping with the outside leg and when we turn it's kind of like a pivot around a central point which will be either one of the sisters. And in that moment it’s very apparent the effect that this probably had on their bodies. They likely suffered some intense scoliosis , likely some pain because of it. It's a really interesting way to put yourself into that character physically," Zimmermann says.

The twins wear the same costumes, Vavra says. "The only time we don't get when Violet  gets married and I’m her bridesmaid by default. She really doesn't have any other options. And there's a dream sequence and it's the only time we are separated and my love interest is having a dream about Daisy. and she appears to him in a dream and it's the first time you ever see her without Violet."

Performances are scheduled for March 28 through April 14 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at CityCentre Houston, 12777 Queensbury. For information, call 713-467-4497 or visit $21-$49.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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