The Art of Blood in Julius Caesar
By Brooke Vlasich
Betrayal. Politics. Power. These are thematic elements that come to mind when one thinks of Julius Caesar, but in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s recent production in the Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre there’s something else that’s essential to the play: blood. When Julius Caesar is stabbed, it’s not something to be taken lightly, and neither is the stage blood that covers him. This week, we take an exclusive look at stage blood and the careful planning behind it, with help from Costume Designer Rachel Laritz, Wigmaster Jillian Floyd, and Wardrobe Supervisor Alexandra Hagman.
Selecting the type of stage blood and packets to hold it (and then release it correctly) might seem like an easy choice, but Floyd says the process is actually quite complicated. When testing stage blood mixtures, theatre artists must take several factors into consideration, including the effect lighting designs have on the color of the stage blood, the possibility of the blood mixture staining actors’ skin, the difficulty of removing the blood from costumes, and potential allergies actors may have to the elements used to make stage blood. Even temperature and altitude can be factors that affect the consistency and thickness of stage blood. The stage blood chosen for Julius Caesar contains a base from the Ben Nye Company, and was chosen for its vibrant color. It’s also water-soluble, it is, however, not edible.
Typically, plastic bags are used to create packets to hold then release the blood, but in the Festival production, Floyd uses plastic containers known as squeakers. Each squeaker needs to contain the same amount of blood. They are not completely filled, thus allowing air pressure to burst the packet when it is squeezed by an actor. Each squeaker is covered with a small piece of plastic that is held in place with a small, clear hairband. Once the squeakers are prepared, they are placed in costumes and given to actors for the scene of Julius Caesar’s assassination.
Removing the blood from costumes is a top priority after intermission, and laundry is washed immediately. Togas and shirts are put in regular wash cycles, while pants are hand washed or spot cleaned. To ensure bloodstains aren’t set in clothing from dryer heat, everything is line dried.
It’s clear to see that orchestrating stage blood is nearly as complicated as the relationship between Julius Caesar and Brutus. Every decision is a complex one and requires being attentive to numerous possible consequences. If you’re planning a Halloween costume this year with fake blood or have tickets to see Julius Caesar, Rachel, Jillian, and Alexandra’s behind-the-scenes experience might help you see blood in a new light.