I need to start this blog off with a spoiler alert. I’m going to give away how The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar handles stage blood. Or, more specifically, how it “doesn’t” handle blood.
If you asked a number of random people off the street what they picture when you say “stage blood” to them, the responses would all probably be pretty similar. It’s a liquid substance used in theater or movies to simulate actual human blood. It’s red, viscous, and flows or explodes out of a character’s body. I also imagine most people would say it needs to actually look like real blood in order to be effective. But that’s not the only way it can be done. It also can be indicated with more representational means. By this I mean something that is used to indicate where blood would typically be, but something less realistic. It could be red string, or red pieces of paper, or beads, or any number of things. Our production of Julius Caesar uses red pieces of fabric.
Whether to use a realistic or more imaginative representation of blood can be kind of a contentious issue. I’m personally rather mixed on it. I love the look of it, and it can cause some very visceral reactions from audience members. When we performed Macbeth at the Rose Theater at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, we had a great reaction from the audience there. After Macbeth killed Duncan, I came from backstage with my hands covered in stage blood, and when I turned around the audience let out a huge gasp. However, no matter how “cool” it looks, there are a lot of downsides. It’s messy, sticky, and it stains. I’ve never used any form of stage blood that didn’t stain fabrics somewhat. Even super fancy ‘no-stain’ stage blood we used in Coriolanus still was difficult to deal with.
I generally prefer something a little more imaginative. I think it can be as effective in getting the point across and takes a little more thought and creativity. Obviously a Quentin Tarantino movie with fabric instead of stage blood wouldn’t have quite the same punch. But in a production such as the kind that Pigeon Creek puts on, I think it can be an extremely effective choice. Julius Caesar is fairly fast paced and has a lot of quick doubling. I think using typical stage blood would be much more difficult to deal with, and almost impossible to clean up.
Like I said, this production uses pieces of fabric to represent blood. The fabrics are hidden on the actors’ bodies and only revealed at specific crucial moments. I think the look of it is actually quite elegant, but it’s taken a lot of rehearsal to get it that way. Brutus has to stab Caesar in just the right spot every performance, or else the effect might not work the way it’s intended.
Of course, there’s really no “right” way to perform stage blood. One of the most impassioned arguments I’ve heard over this show was about this specific issue. Earlier in the run of the show we performed three matinee performances for local high school and middle school students. After the performance, the students from one of the schools that was in attendance went to another part of the theater complex to have lunch. I was able to stop in and chat with some of them. While talking with one specific table, one of the kids mentioned that the only thing he didn’t like was the blood. He thought it would have been better if we had used more realistic blood. Before I had the chance to answer, another kid at the table chimed in with his disagreement. He liked the fact that it required the audience to use their imagination and that we were able to do things with the fabric that wouldn’t have been possible with liquid. I told them that one way wasn’t necessarily better than the other; it’s just a matter of what works best for that particular show. They agreed.
Stage blood, bringing argumentative youths together one performance at a time.