Engineering a New Stage Blood

Larry Heyman

Stage blood. It’s got to look wet, fresh, and realistic. It’s not the dry effects we can sometimes create using paints, dyes, and gloss finishes; no, stage blood has to be fluid. It sounds strange to say, but I’ve been thinking about the challenges of blood onstage for over 30 years now. Theatrical supply companies and makeup houses have produced different versions for use on stage and in film. Each is a little different; viscosity, color, gloss, and each carries its own price tag. 

The feedback I hear most often from prop masters is that the really great products are expensive. This is even more true if you’re doing a long run or particularly bloody show and need higher volumes. A quick review of commercially available stage blood reveals price tags ranging from $100 to $400 per gallon depending on the supplier. At the beginning of the 2018-19 season I realized that we were doing no fewer than three shows that had blood requirements; Side Show, which involves an effect where a chicken is decapitated onstage. (We used a high-quality replica stuffed chicken that was carefully rigged with a removable head). The Wolves, which involves a spontaneous nosebleed onstage. And Julius Caesar (I don’t think I need to go into too much detail, suffice it to say it doesn’t end well.) After investigating a few commercially available products, I began to explore the idea of making my own.

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Syracuse Stage’s Washable Ink Recipe
Syracuse Stage’s Washable Ink Recipe

Ink That Will Not Stain, Washable Ink from Syracuse Stage

From Jessica Culligan

Jessica Culligan is a Prop Artisan at Syracuse Stage. A recent production of Pride and Prejudice, called for a bit of stage business that potentially would be a prop headache. The Lizzie Bennet character spills ink on her dress and the prop department was tasked with coming up with an ink solution that would wash out of the dress. A dress that first stays on stage long enough for the stain to begin drying and letting the ink solution soak into the costume. We asked Culligan to share the recipe of their washable ink with our Stage Directions readers:

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Two Sides of the Coin...that you made!

Jay Duckworth

Props Master; Props Teacher
There comes a time in a prop person’s career where they have to show an actor how to pull off a trick. It’s sometimes very simple like drawing a sword properly or not using the sword as a cane by leaning on it. These may sound like common sense points, but they all fall under a blanket of teaching. As technicians, we sometimes assume the people know skills that we use every day, but actors who do ask questions about replicating the actions of a skill are being honest with us because they want to know how to do this correctly as if they are someone who’s had that skill all their life. 

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USITT Young Designer Erin Reed
USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

USITT Young Designer Erin Reed

Stage Directions

Costume designer Erin Reed is based out of Knoxville, TN. She just completed her MFA at the University of Tennessee. She's a freelance costume designer, design assistant and technician working with companies such as the Clarence Brown Theatre, River and Rail Theatre Company, Flying Anvil Theatre, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. This spring she was honored for her work with the USITT Zelma H. Weisfeld Award for Costume Design and Technology. She also showcased in USITT’s Young Designer’s Forum, and won first place in Graduate Costume Design at SETC 2018 for her design of Peter and the Starcatcher. Stage Directions caught up with this young designer to watch at USITT when she joined us at the USITT/Stage Directions studio on the show floor.

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Maddie Mayans, Nikki Rose, and Sean Murray in The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc
Maddie Mayans, Nikki Rose, and Sean Murray in The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc

A Volley of Arrows Using High, Low and No Tech Solutions

Brent Stainer and Camille Taliaferro-Barber

When Archbishop Murphy High School, in Everett, WA, produced The Maid’s Trial; Joan of Arc, the script called for two volleys of arrows to strike the stage, creating the illusion that the characters were being attacked from a long distance. In the first volley, arrows strike across the set and the character of Joan is struck in the shoulder. The second volley strikes around the stage and onto shields held up to protect the injured Joan. The effect needed to look realistic to reflect the heavy tone of the play, so comical or whimsical effects would not do. The primary concern of course was safety, so actual free-flight arrows would not be considered. The solutions to the multiple challenges were found using three approaches – high tech, low tech, and no tech. 

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Words, Words, Words

Jay Duckworth

Speaking at Maine State Music Theatre this summer, I was asked what my design process was. I said, ‘First off, read the script.’ Holy Cow, I can’t believe the number of people that I’ve worked with that just skim it over to look for ‘he hands him a hammer’. What if the actor must hit someone on the head with that hammer? 

The first time I worked with playwright Arthur Laurents he told me, ‘If you have any questions, look back into the script, and it will tell you everything.’ When I go through a script for the first time, I hit everything that is a prop with a yellow highlighter; everything that is a perishable with a red highlighter, and situational information (year, season, holidays, before and after, financial situation, day of the week, and weather trends) with a blue highlighter. 

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Claire Warden, Broadway’s First Credited Intimacy Director
Claire Warden, Broadway’s First Credited Intimacy Director

A Conversation with Claire Warden, The First Broadway Credited Intimacy Director

Howard Sherman

In response to an observation that five years ago she wouldn’t have been having a conversation about intimacy direction, Claire Warden responds, “It didn’t exist five years ago, in this form.”

But intimacy direction has rapidly emerged as a distinct discipline on the creative teams of plays and musicals, and Warden has been at the forefront of that movement. She is the first person to have been credited as the intimacy director of a Broadway show, for Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune with Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon. She’s about to be the second person thusly credited, as Slave Play, first seen at New York Theatre Workshop, moves to Broadway.

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Designer Rachel Hauck
Designer Rachel Hauck

Finding Her Tribe: A Conversation with Rachel Hauck

Howard Sherman

Glance at the current resume of set designer Rachel Hauck and under “Recent Off-Broadway” you’ll find more than 50 productions. Look at “Recent Regional” and you’ll find yet another 50 shows. Under Broadway, no “recent” is required, because Hauck has but three credits, but what impressive credits they are and one ends with a Tony Award. Her first Broadway credit was for John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons. The other two are for productions that have been running simultaneously during much of 2019. One is Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, for which Hauck created an amalgam of the VFW halls that Schreck frequented in order to compete in essay contests in her teen years. The other is the Tony Award winning Best Musical of 2019, Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, for which Hauck won the Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. Less than a month after her Tony, Hauck sat down with Stage Directions to talk about her career. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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The Muny Renovation

Michael Eddy

In May of 2018, The Muny Theatre in St. Louis, MO announced its Second Century Capital Campaign, a $100 million fundraising effort that would fund major capital improvements, including a complete rebuild of its stage. At the time, Muny President and CEO, Denny Reagan commented, “As we look toward our second century, the capital improvements to the facility and endowment support that will result from this campaign are vital to the future of The Muny.” After several years of planning, the staff of The Muny were ready to pull the trigger on the project at the conclusion of the 2018 summer season. The century-old stage was torn down and construction began; all with the goal of having it rebuilt and ready to go for the 2019 season in the spring. The rebuild addressed critical structural needs and allows The Muny to utilize stage technology that has become standard across the industry—versatile automated stage decking, stage lifts, an all LED lighting system, state-of-the-art controls, and new scenic LED screens. The results of the first phase of construction were completed on schedule and Guys and Dolls hit the ‘new’ boards on June 10, 2019. Production Manager, Tracy Utzmyers and Lighting Designer, Rob Denton, who have both been very involved in this massive renovation, spoke with Stage Directions about the process, the challenges and the stunning results.

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