It’s that time of year again… the time when we start to mess up stages and add a bit of claret to our performances. If you are thinking of going a bit gorelesque, here are a few tips to think about…
Firstly, have a read of this if you are not sure what gorelesque is. In basic terms it’s burlesque mixed with horror or gore.
Have a reason…
Sounds obvious, but your act needs to have a reason to be covering yourself in blood. Perhaps you are a vampire? A nurse who has got too carried away? Maybe you are some kind of flesh eating zombie or even Lady Bathory. Whatever your character, have a reason for blood. Or a blood pour. Unless you want to look like Steven King’s Carrie.
What to make bloody? Where to add the gore?
So, again, think of this in a logical way… If your character has just murdered someone, would you have bloody hands? Probably. Would you have pristine hair and make up? Probably not. Would your costume be a bit bloody? Probably yes – and that might include under layers too. Perhaps your under layers or reveal could make sense with the blood – for instance, my Lizzie Borden character has red handprint pasties – the audience decide if she is guilty and this is a helping hand (sorry, puns!) to decide her guilt!
Make-up wise, less is more. It really is. Too much blood looks shit. Too much blood just looks like you’ve got no idea what to do with it so have put it everywhere. There are loads of great special effect tutorials on youtube. Things to think about: is your character wounded or dead? If so, the blood would me more intense at an injury site. Is your character a killer in some way? If so, they might be covered in blood in some way – from hands, to splashes or smears on the face and clothes.
What Blood shall I use?
There are loads of great blood products on the market these days – and always at halloween! The shops are flooded with the stuff! Supermarket Halloween isles are great for finding non-toxic blood that easily washes out of clothes. Basically, it’s aimed at kids (and mums and dads who do the washing). Great. but bear in mind, it might not be suitable for stage as the product might not be as vibrant as you need for the back row to see it. Stage make up brands which include Ben Nye (they do an edible one that is minty flavoured!) and Kryolan are my favourites (I’m not sponsored by them, just being honest!). They are specially formulated for stage, non-sticky (a lot of blood is sticky and doesn’t dry out on costumes or skin) and doesn’t smell weird (some smell like coffee or a sickly sweet smell that makes you gag the more you use it!) Different blood products do different jobs – here’s a quick guide:
Edible Blood – blood you can put in the mouth. It doesn’t mean you can drink gallons of it, but if you do accidently swallow some, or you get some in the mouth it is not going to be unpleasant. These usually take the form of capsules (for foaming blood – just bite and there’s a reaction with your saliva) or a liquid (such as the ben nye minty version).
Liquid blood – this comes in two shades. Lighter, more red blood is freshly pumped blood from the heart, the darker colour is blood that needs oxygen, so blood in the system going to be pumped. Dried blood is usually a brownish colour. Liquid blood will dry, is very versatile and can be poured, dabbed, mixed, smeared and patted and is the stuff you see a lot.
Blood paste – if you are using Kryolan products, this is ‘scratch blood’. It’s usually in a tub and looks stretchy and thick. This is a great filler for wounds and works best applied with a cocktail stick. You can use a stipple sponge to stipple it on for grazes also. Beware with this product! The more you add, the more plastically and unreal it will look. Less is definitely more.
Magic Powder Blood – this might be called another name by the different brands. Basically it’s an invisible powder that is applied to the skin and is activated with water. For instance, if you wanted magic skin tears, drips or the appearance of a bloody wound suddenly appearing on stage, then this is a great product. Spray with a mist of water to activate, or with a prop such as a plastic/theatrical knife with a wet tip.
Do have a gander at what you can get out there on the market – there are loads of products you can use. But bear in mind what you will need it for. You might also want to ask yourself if you need it to be washable (to wash out of costumes), if you need to to be wet or if you need to be staining.
Permanent blood on props or costume? Make your own!
If you need something very simple, that is not going to be washed out of costumes or need something permanent for props, you can make your own blood from acrylic paint. Some people forget that this is an option as we are all so used to looking at specialist blood products. If I’m staining a costume or props, I use red acrylic paint mixed with a touch of black to get a slightly brownish dried blood effect… It will dry on the skin and not smear off (set with translucent powder to make doubly sure after you’ve applied and remove with an oily make up remover). You can put it on costumes and it will stay put – you can also build up layers (do not put it on any costume that you want to wash clean – it will not come off!)
For a burlesque effect mix the above acrylic paints with a bit of glitter! It will look great under the lights (most of my gorelesque acts have a lot of red glitter mixed in the blood on props – check out the axe!)
A few tips in general… (For all performers using blood or mess in an act)
Firstly, think of the order you will perform the act in. Most shows will allow a 40 min change over in between acts, some shows there is a lot tighter time so if you do your messy act first, you will need to completely start again (make up, hair, costume). Think if less than 40 mins will be enough to get cleaned up and ready. Most producers will be accommodating if you explain you need to do your messy act second. And actually it’s a lot easier to go from whatever clean act first to add gore and mess to your second act make-up, etc… Here’s a quick link to show how (this is my Barbara Cartland act into my Dark Annie act…) Old lady Drag to Ripper Hag
If the act is messy, warn the producer of the shows. Don’t be upset if a producer says’no wet mess’ – some theatres don’t allow it/some fine producers for any cleaning. Definitely DO NOT sneak a messy act onto the bill, especially if a producer has said no. You will not win any friends and could ruin a producer’s night or a fellow performer’s costume.
Things to bring: You may need to take a towel to clean your self up in the wings, you may need more towels to clean the stage, or a stage may need to be covered, so bear in mind you may need a tarp. Also bringing flip flops is a must so bloody/dirty or wet footprints don’t get left around the building. If you are doing a dirty/bloody act, check if the theatre have a shower – because otherwise you are going to get through a whole loads of wet wipes!
If you can’t do a ‘wet mess’ act, there are ways around it that still has the same effect. You can use red glitter instead of a blood pour, red sequin pieces to pull out of props and costumes, lengths of red silk as intestines (pic, left, is red silk) or red confetti pieces thrown up like blood. In the right context it will be convincing.
Help out the stage manager! You might want to give a bag (and some marigolds) to stage manager or whoever is on stage clearing duty so they don’t get filthy and in turn get other things filthy… Also think of your case. Take a bag to put any wet costume pieces in so your case and other costume stays clean.
Lighting-wise, make sure the theatre don’t use any red lights as red lights will swallow up all your fake blood and it won’t be seen… If there is no option but to use red lights, then make your blood black so it shows up on stage.
Main pic Neil Kendall. All other images Miss Moth.