My family loves Broadway musicals. Over Thanksgiving break, we saw a particularly wonderful--and personally meaningful--revival of a musical called "Side Show." We had been fans of the show for years, as it had a regrettably short three-month run in 1997, and the girls grew up listening to the soundtrack [as of this writing, it has already been canceled after a two-month run, which is baffling due to the rave reviews it received].
The show is based on the true story of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were the headliners of a carnival "freak show" in the 1920's. They went on to be the highest paid performers in Vaudeville history and, sadly, performed their swan song in the cult exploitation movie "Freaks." The first act centers around their life in the side show and introduces the audience to the other performers--the bearded lady, the chicken-head-eating geek, and the dog boy among others. The show opens with a barker enticing people to "Come Look at the Freaks." Each performer colorfully plays up his character to a lasciviously voyeuristic audience. But behind the dark glamour of the side show, we quickly learn that the performers lead a harsh life bereft of human comforts and respect from their cruel "owner." Still, the performers find comfort in their shared circumstances; they live as a family and support each other come what may.
The show has many powerful moments and runs the audience through the gamut of human emotions. But it is the end of the first act that really sticks with me. As Violet and Daisy earn more accolades, talent agents come knocking, eager to make money off of them--and the spectacle of their being conjoined. The sisters dare to dream that the world will love them as performers and that the agents, who quickly become suitors, will love them as people. After some heartbreaking moments in which the twins come to learn that the men they have fallen for are ashamed of them, they declare their sorrow and question "Who Will Love Me as I Am?" The duet is hauntingly beautiful. "Who could see beyond this surface?" they ask. But the most powerful moment comes at the song's end as the lights illuminate the entire cast behind them echoing their words: "Who could proudly stand beside me? Who will love me as I am?"
The message is stunning: We are all "freaks." We are all in search of love. All of us. And there are moments in our lives when we question if we will ever really find it. Sounds depressing, I know. But to me, the message is one of commonality, of unity, of shared human experience. When we recognize that we are all on a quest for acceptance and love--one of the core tents of the Adlerian psychology on which Positive Discipline is based--we are better able to empathize, to see beyond the surface, to form deep relationships out of respect for the pain of others. Just as we inevitably feel the same pain. For example, actions that on the surface appear to be borne of anger or ill-will are really based on fear, something we can all relate to. Knowing that, we can truly empathize and help each other grow.
It makes me so sad that you will not be able to see "Side Show" on Broadway. But the soundtrack is out there. If you want to hear for yourself, click here to listen to it. And feel your capacity to empathize grow ever greater.