Joined at the hip for theatre return

Leticia Bayliss and Jenn Stirk as Daisy and Violet Hilton and, inset, the real-life Hilton sisters. (Supplied and Progress StudioNew York)

By Luke Voogt

Geelong actresses Jenn Stirk and Leticia Bayliss have spent the past month joined at the hip rehearsing for a local production of Broadway musical Side Show.

The pair play real-life 1920s Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hamilton in Theatre of the Damned’s first show since COVID-19 hit.

“I’m very flattered to be partnered with her – a girl that’s in her early 20s,” Stirk, 37, laughed.

The performing arts teacher recently starred in Groovyman at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

But her latest role as a conjoined twin is a first in her more than two decades of local theatre.

“I don’t think many people would have had to play something like this,” Stirk said.

“It’s very strange having to stand so close next to someone and give up your personal space.”

The pair have used press studs, magnets and clothes sewn together, along with physical communication, in an effort to make their performance convincing.

“We had a play with magnets but that didn’t quite work,” Stirk said.

“We squeeze each other’s hands when we’re about to walk so we don’t split.

“We had to figure out how we could make it look as realistic as possible. Real Siamese twins would have that joint sort of sense – depending on their join.

“This is quite a challenging role but it’s been a great learning experience.”

The company’s directors chose the pair to work together as the most similar-looking members of the cast, Stirk explained.

“We’ll be wearing wigs and our amazing makeup stylist Aashlea Oakes is going to contour our faces so we look even more similar,” she said.

Side Show tells the story the of the Hilton twins, who were exploited from birth along with other performers, generally people with disabilities real or faked, on display to be gawked at.

“They basically used them for money,” Stirk said.

Stirk studied the sisters for the play, and said surgeons nowadays could easily have easily cut their join at the hip.

“It was really sad they went through life the way they did,” she said.

“When people realise they are real people it kind of hits home a bit.”

The extroverted Stirk, who normally plays “louder, overconfident characters”, takes on the role of the quieter twin Violet.

“Voilet is very shy and the whole idea of performing onstage scares her. She just wants to be normal like everyone else,” she said.

Her colleague Bayliss plays the outgoing Daisy, who just wants to be famous.

“She’s me in a few exaggerated ways,” Bayliss told the Independent.

“She’s very bratty and defiant, and it’s so much fun to learn the vivacious and flirtatious side of her.

“It’s fun to play one of those characters that just says those things that you hold back in your day-to-day life.

“I’m quite flattered talent-wise that they would match me up with someone so much more experienced than me,” Bayliss said of her onstage partner.

“It’s so strange – it’s been the most wonderful but terrifying experience learning to move with another person, while playing another person.”

The 22-year-old musician, who is preparing to release four new tracks, has “been doing theatre seriously” for the past two years.

“Being an extroverted person and a performer, COVID was really difficult. I’m happy we’re back and I hope it stays that way.”

She admitted part of her was nervous after a year-long break from the stage.

“But as we rehearse, I’m just feeling this excitement bubbling inside of me – it’s really quite wonderful,” he said

Side Show runs for seven performances from next Thursday to May 7 at Shenton Theatre Geelong High School.