By Colleen Sparks
With the many hours they spend practicing lines, learning songs and battling nerves as they portray characters on stage, it’s no wonder actors bond with each other like family members.
But two Chandler teenagers are perhaps forming an even stronger alliance than actors in other productions, as they are playing conjoined twin sisters in a musical at Limelight Performing Arts in Gilbert.
Gracie Gamble, 13, and Jessica Montecalvo, 14, take on the roles of teenage Violet Hilton and Daisy Hilton, respectively, in the musical Side Show this month at the theater.
The musical is about the ups and downs of the real-life Hilton twins, born in England in 1908, who captured the world’s attention as they performed in a traveling circus, vaudeville and movies.
Gamble, an eighth-grader at Horizon Honors Secondary School in Ahwatukee, and Montecalvo, a freshman at Hamilton High School in Chandler, are learning how to walk, stand, sit and even dance together in the unusual roles. Montecalvo said many people have often said she and Gamble look alike. In rehearsals, a string is tied around both of them to keep them moving together and in the shows they will be wearing costumes that are sewn together. They even dance with two partners, creating a quartet of actors moving together, and Gamble said in one rehearsal it was “hard going down stairs” as a unit.
Gamble and Montecalvo say despite the odd challenges, they fell in love with the musical and its diverse songs. Both have performed in other plays and musicals in the East Valley and taken dance classes.
“I thought it was super cool and something different,” Montecalvo said. “I just wanted to see how the conjoined twins would work.”
Gamble echoed that sentiment. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, how is that gonna work?’” she said. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘I’m honored to act out this part.’ They’re real people.”
Though the girls form a close bond in the musical, they explain Violet and Daisy have distinct personalities. Daisy was flirtatious and wanted to perform in vaudeville and be famous. Violet was more reserved and wanted to settle down with a husband.
Despite the twins’ differences, Gamble and Montecalvo said the sisters’ love for each other was evident from what they have learned while doing the musical and through their own research.
The budding East Valley actresses have forged close bonds with the fellow actors in the musical, about 30 youths ranging from ages 8 to 18. Besides being the star characters, Gamble and Montecalvo play other roles in the musical. Both girls perform in the ensemble; Gamble is also a sword swallower and Montecalvo also plays a snake charmer.
“It’s like you’re four different people in the span of two hours,” Gamble said.
At a recent rehearsal, the many young actors in the musical clowned around, hugged, acknowledged a new haircut and talked about their weekend plans in between dancing, singing and navigating a dance floor at Studio 3 Performing Arts Academy, a business that provides lessons in acting, singing, dance, musical theater and musical instruments on West Guadalupe Road in Gilbert.
Limelight, a nonprofit youth theater, holds its show rehearsals at Studio 3, but all youths are encouraged to audition and participate in Limelight productions. Other Southeast Valley youths are also getting their moments in the spotlight in Side Show at the Gilbert theater. Annabelle Skala, 15, a sophomore at Queen Creek High School, plays the adult version of Daisy in the musical. Samantha Timothy, 17, a senior at Campo Verde High School, plays the adult version of Violet.
Emma England, owner of Studio 3 Performing Arts Academy and artistic director and board president of Limelight Performing Arts, wears many hats for Side Show, including choreographer, music director and set designer. She said Side Show captures some, but not all, of the dark moments in the twins’ lives. “We knew that we were going to have a show two weeks before Halloween,” England said. “I chose Side Show because it has a kind of whole Halloween-esque feel. It’s actually a really family-friendly show.”
The musical deals with topics including how the twins were exploited and their decision on whether to be separated, but it’s appropriate for all ages to see, she said.
Side Show conveys the idea people should accept themselves as they are. “We’re all different and we all have something to offer this world,” England said. “It goes back to being in someone else’s shoes.”