Friday, October 26, 2007

The Bloody Details

No, all that blood is not ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer). I am surprised how many people truly believe that stage blood really is ketchup. If only it were that simple. All of the considerations for the blood used in a show such as Dracula are more complicated than feeding an entire room of people with every food allergy known to man. It is not so much that the actors are picky, but that several different effects are required.

There is fresh blood verses dried blood. Dripping blood verses spurting blood. Animal blood verse human blood. Edible blood verses non-edible blood. The only place that there really is no choice is in staining blood verses non-staining blood. It all stains.

Many different recipes for stage blood can be found. Some simple concoctions and others that require the talents of a mad scientist. The choice of ingredients in many of them may surprise you.

In making non-edible blood, the crucial ingredient is blue laundry detergent. Yes, using this as a base does help to keep the red dye from setting, but more importantly it is used because the blue coloring when mixed with any of the various red colors (food coloring, jello powder, kool-aid, etc.) makes the overall color more realistic in both color and consistency. Other recipes add a flour mixture to this basic recipe. Some add a hint of green coloring to enhance the blood color.

The edible blood recipes are a little more interesting. Obviously the blue detergent is no longer a main ingredient (unless you need characters to foam at the mouth). Corn syrup is a popular ingredient because of its viscosity. However, when this is used as a base, the sticky mess that results is just gross. Truthfully, any of this stuff is pretty gross in the amounts that it is used in this show. Another common ingredient in the edible blood is Hershey's chocolate syrup. This too creates an awful sticky mess but at least it tastes better than plain corn syrup. Several other recipes use either jello or Kool-aid, usually black cherry flavored, mixed with water. Sometimes these colors are tweaked with a few drops of blue and/or green food coloring.

Obtaining the correct color and consistency of blood necessary for the desired effect on stage is an art in itself. Then there is the vessel that must deliver the blood on stage. Blood packs are the most common means of this. Fortunately these can also be bought rather than made fresh for each performance. Blood packs are like a water balloon filled with some mixture like those mentioned above. The problem with them is, like a water balloon, they don't always burst like you want them to. The actors are responsible for hitting the pack "just right" so that the blood appears. This too is an art as is the placement of the packs by the various technical crew. It is quite an operation. This is one instance of when it is done properly a bloody mess results.

Then there is the clean-up of all the dispersed blood props. In the case of Dracula, by the time the shoe is over, the stage and several of the actors are covered in the red stuff. The stage is not such a problem. A good stage crew and a little soap and water can ready the stage for another go of it tomorrow. The costumes are another story. Because in this show many of them are white, they must be washed and bleached after each performance. The cast here is great. I washed everything last night and several other people have volunteered to take a turn. I am grateful for this. I would have a hard time justifying doing theatre laundry every night when Erin and I don't have any clean clothes! So, I think we have a system for keeping all the costumes tidy for performances.

Then there is the audience. The other night during rehearsal, blood from the scene where Lucy has the stake driven through her heart spurted out onto the first three rows of the audience. Fortunately, it was just a rehearsal and these seats were empty. We joked that the front rows ought to come with ponchos and a warning, much like the close up seats at Sea World's Shamu attractions. Maybe just a sign with the warning, "Splash Zone" would do. Hopefully the problem has been fixed. Now Lucy is very careful to bleed in the proper direction.

This has been my first experience with stage blood. Though I have learned a lot, I can';t say that I have had much fun with this. Luckily, other people are responsible for doing most of the blood work. I did get to build the bleeding rat. That was fun. Actually I have two different versions - the pathetic little rat who must live in a really clean city and thus is starving, and the big, fat, hairy, sewer rat. They both bleed really well!

I promised the bloody details and there you have them. The discussion of blood stops here. It will now turn to something just as amazing - the massive amounts of chocolate that this cast has put away while hanging around in the green room. It is a good thing that it is Halloween and candy comes in those big bags! Perhaps chocolate makes a great blood chaser.