Linzi Hateley in “Carrie” on Broadway in 1988. (Photograph by Peter Cunningham).
Make no mistake about it: There can be blood. Ever for the reason that Romans broke the custom of Greeks preserving violence out of sight, there was blood onstage, each actual and faux. As a prop grasp for the final 30-odd years, I’ve needed to navigate my method by some actually inspirational and a few fairly disastrous blood particular results concepts posed by administrators and actors. That’s why I used to be so blissful to choose up Jennifer McClure’s Bloody Sensible, a guide that explains, as its subtitle places it, “How one can Develop, Execute, and Clear Up Blood Results for Stay Efficiency.”
Routledge’s Focal Press publishes lots of nice books for the theatre, and this one is stuffed with info I want I’d had years in the past. It provides sensible examples of various blood results, and a breakdown of parts for allotting blood onstage, from the fundamental to the intricate. McClure additionally features a effectively developed database of material varieties, in addition to what blood colorant combos work greatest with these materials.
Once I’m studying the script of a present I’m prop-ing and I see blood enter a scene, a sequence of ideas begins in my head: Do we’d like a battle director? The place on the actor does the blood seem? The place can I cover the blood? Will blood get on costumes, and has the costume designer thought of it in cloth decisions? Will blood get on the set partitions or the furnishings? How a lot time does the crew have to wash up? Every of those choices requires a plan earlier than I meet with the director or the remainder of the design workforce. It’s necessary to be sure you take heed to what your director’s imaginative and prescient is. I do know that ought to be self-explanatory, however there are occasions I’ve anticipated blood to pour out over our Medea, solely to have the director need tear-shaped purple mylar to fall throughout her as an alternative.
As soon as the motion onstage has been established, we safe a battle director, who is important not solely to creating certain that the actors are completely secure, however to make sure they’ll use their experience to choreograph the perfect methods to hide the tips of the commerce. What do I imply by that? Nicely, if the actor will get punched within the nostril, there’s the previous trick of giving them a folded handkerchief that’s blood-stained on the within, which the actor then places to their nostril, solely to open and take a look at and BOOM! It appears to be like just like the handkerchief is stuffed with blood from their now-broken nostril. Should you want an actor to chop themselves with a knife, the reply might be as low-cost as gluing a sponge to the again of a uninteresting knife or as advanced as making an precise blood knife with an inside pump.
Bloody Sensible isn’t only a nice useful resource for a spread of easy to advanced blood issues; it additionally guides readers from the planning part by the onstage clean-up. Jennifer exhibits readers methods to finances results based mostly on their scale. It’s not nearly budgeting prices but in addition accounting for time, together with pre- and post-show preparations and clean-up. She additionally discusses in-depth methods to coordinate with different departments when deciding what sort of blood to make use of.
Are there extra varieties of pretend blood than there are of actual blood? Oh, positively. A everlasting dry mark is just like the handkerchief described earlier, or like Mercutio’s wound beneath his doublet. In that case, you possibly can have one thing hidden throughout the costume that’s stained or painted onto the material and might be revealed after the motion occurs. This is not going to discolor something it touches. Then there’s detergent-based blood that may come out of the costume. Bloody Sensible explains methods to run exams on varied materials.
Blood that will get into an actor’s eyes has to have an actor-safe base liquid. For blood that has to come back out of an actor’s mouth, there are sometimes small to giant gelatin capsules that may be hidden round set or palmed by an actor till bleeding time. That sort of blood makes use of a distinct base, which can be chocolate or Karo syrup. However then what do you do in case your actor is diabetic or simply can’t have sugar? Attempt beets with somewhat distilled water. For prime-viscosity wounds, there’s a sort of jelly blood that may go on an actor which is not going to run, drip, or transfer.
Actually thrilling bloodbaths can occur once you introduce supply programs and create the sort of splatter that will get everywhere in the set, as in performs by the likes of Martin McDonagh. There’s a scene on the finish of The Pillowman the place a personality will get shot by investigators after placing a hood over his head. After a short scene between the investigators, the wounded character stands as much as give a remaining, blood-drenched monologue. Director Will Frears requested whether or not, as soon as the physique fell to the ground, a big pool of blood may leak out whereas the investigators have been speaking. Our battle director, J. Allen Suddeth, instantly mentioned sure, then took me apart and whispered: “I’ve bought a plan.”
We drilled a gap onstage and ran medical tubing beneath the set to backstage left. The tubing reached down right into a five-gallon bucket of thinned-out blood based mostly with tear-free, scent-free child shampoo. This was then pumped onstage by a small pond pump. We simply needed to coordinate the timing of the pump with the gunshot to keep away from getting blood onstage earlier than the physique fell. As soon as the physique landed close to the opening, it created the impact of blood pouring out of the physique.
Within the hood, we used what’s referred to as a “strawberry,” which the actor may squeeze as he eliminated the hood, in order that blood would slowly drip down his face throughout his monologue. This meant we wanted two totally different sorts of blood: one for the actor’s head, and one which wouldn’t stain the set after a number of bloody puddle cleanups.
Loads of performs use huge quantities of blood onstage that every one must be cleaned up earlier than the following efficiency. Typically it’s a five-show weekend. That is the place McClure introduces prop hero Rely Vacula, the moist/dry vacuum.
Bloody Sensible guides readers by the totally different programs of blood supply for a mess of situations. Since each play is totally different, and each method to bleeding onstage is individualized or extremely stylized, it’s helpful to have all of those artistic choices in your arsenal.
McClure doesn’t skimp on security both. This isn’t nearly contemplating the blunt pressure and different dangers related to the weapons you employ; it additionally requires discussing performers’ allergic reactions; along with allergic reactions to sugar-based blood options, there could be a query of whether or not they’re able to have plastic blood-holders towards their pores and skin, or could also be allergic to latex tubing.
In my years of serving as a props grasp, from the “all we now have is $5” productions to those the place “the backers need to deliver their youngsters to the manufacturing assembly,” I’d have shed blood for a useful resource like this guide.
Jay Duckworth (@Proptologist on TikTok) is a professor, props grasp, and props designer with greater than 20 years of expertise in LORT and Off-Broadway theatre, fast-paced summer season shares, unbiased movies, TV, and music movies. He’s the founding father of the Prop Summit, a yearly assembly of Broadway, Off-Broadway, LORT and educational prop professionals and college students.
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