With the Ides of March upon us — the day upon which Julius Caesar was murdered — it’s the perfect time of year to talk stage blood. Whether it’s buckets of blood in Martin McDonagh’s Lieutenant of Inishmore, or Lady Macbeth’s bloody hands in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, stage blood is an exhilarating, thrilling, sticky mess. Here are some tips for making the most out of even the stickiest stage blood situations.
The key to perfect stage blood is choosing the right variety for you particular blood scenario.
Where is the blood seen?
If blood appears on a person, it must be non-toxic and easily washable. Oral blood packs for sucker punches to the lip, coughing up blood, or Dracula’s lunch, are best created with Ben Nye’s Zesty Mint Blood. This blood truly is as refreshing as it sounds—a non-toxic, edible, mint flavored, bright red blood. You can create a blood spurt by filling a gelatin capsule (available at your local health food store) with some mint blood, and biting it at the opportune moment to release a red trickle down the lip. This is both a simple and easily concealable method that ensures a gruesome effect.
If blood is kept away from the face, there are other options. For the most washable blood Gravity and Momentum have their competitors beat. With a charmingly named line of blood ranging from a very watery Blood Juice, to a mid-level viscosity Blood Syrup to my personal favorite, a deep red molasses called Blood Jam, this company has created one of the most manageable stage bloods I’ve ever seen. Fully encapsulating the red dye molecules within the blood’s suspension, this is the most water soluble, stain-proof blood on the market. With a range in viscosity, Blood Juice can create effective spurts and splatters, while Blood Jam is ideal for holding in form in dramatic drips. The whole product line changes viscosity with temperature, so the colder the blood, the slower it moves. It also dries quickly, making for less dripping onstage and easier cleanup.
How fresh is the blood?
The color and viscosity of blood are a dead giveaway as to how fresh a wound is. For older wounds that have begun to coagulate, Ben Nye’s Scab Blood is a dark red paste that doesn’t quite congeal, but gives the user a moldable scabby mess—the perfect addition to silicone or latex scars, bullet wounds, and general laceration.
For a fresher blood, both Ben Nye’s Zesty Mint and Gravity and Momentum’s Blood Syrup provide a bright red color and a runny consistency perfect for squibs. The simplest, and most traditional squibs can be made from a finger cot. Fill the cot with blood. Tie off tightly, like a very tiny water balloon. Apply pressure, at the right moment, and the cot will explode. This is idea for stab wounds from shanks, knives, and broadswords.
For other instances, a blood pack can be created with a bag and tube system, balancing the distance the blood must travel with the force of gravity.
Does it need to be real blood at all?
In many cases, actual stage blood either isn’t necessary, or doesn’t read as well as an alternative. What looks like blood in natural light, might be too dark, too blue, too purple under various stage lights. In those instances consider using diluted tempera paint, which can be purchased as a liquid or powder. Powder tempera is especially effective for an actor who wets their hands, and then dips them in—it’s easy to conceal, and doesn’t require storage onstage or off in a waterproof container. Tempera is also non-toxic and water soluble — just avoid contact with the face!
How much blood do you need?
For one or two cuts or stabs, commercial blood is the way to go. It’s always more washable than homemade blood, and is hassle free. But, if your production requires gallons of blood, it’s best to make your own.
Homemade blood allows you to control color, viscosity and edibility.
And easy blood can be made by combing water, corn syrup, and the perfect ratio of food color.
The only downside to the homemade variety—it’s usually harder to wash out of costumes.
So, whether it’s buckets, or just a a single spot of blood, remember the beauty in the magic of stage gratuity. Who doesn’t love a little blood?