I wanted to go into the theatre liking this show. I did. It’s not often I get to see a show where people of various disabilities get represented on stage in a way, so I was told, was respectful. That recognized the cruelty of the past and shamed it.
That was not the production I saw.
What I got to see instead was a bunch of able bodied actors given a caricature on stage. There was no effort in humanizing anyone in the Side Show, who call themselves freaks, God’s mistakes, oddities. A dog-boy was treated exactly that both on stage and off stage. A lizard man never took off his makeup, only lived it. The human pincushion didn’t once remove any of the objects he placed there.
I watched the story of two women, conjoined twins sold into slavery since birth, be treated in death as they were in life – another freak show. A show with technical wonders to marvel at, something to “ooo” and “ahhh” at while they perform for the normal people in the crowd, so everyone who paid their ticket to see how we manufacture “freakdom” can go back to their homes and talk about what a shame and tragedy it is to be different.
I know I’m lucky in that my disability, for the most part, is an invisible and silent one. But when I watch a show like Side Show, I am reminded on why I don’t bring it up to strangers. About how in every dating article I have ever read for disabled women, one of the first things they say is “don’t tell them about your disability” as if it’s something everyone can hide. About how I was told, over and over again, that I may need someone to take care of me for the rest of my life, that I would never get to be fully independent unless I wanted death.
My story, my life, doesn’t exist for the abeled to gawk at. I do not exist for the entertainment of others. I do not exist so that when I die, my story can make my oppressors feel better about themselves.
This show is inherently abelist, inherently manipulative, and a way for the able-bodied to once again turn a profit off of the disabled and exploit them for their own gain. It is the oppressor using the oppressed to make themselves feel good.
I hope, one day, the Hilton sisters can actually rest in peace, with a world that embraces and equalizes difference. That their legacy will be as performers overcoming the horridness of other people instead of a pair of freaks, of oddities. Of something to buy tickets for.
So long Side Show.