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How does Baltimore’s ’Dracula’ get so gruesome? Meet the people behind the stage show’s blood and gore

Day after day and performance after performance, Taylor Gulotta’s body count rises.

As the assistant stage manager and “blood wrangler” for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of “Dracula,” Gulotta has spilled more plasma than Lestart de Lioncourt of “The Vampire Chronicles” and Edward Cullen of “The Twilight Saga” combined.

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It is Gulotta who before each performance portions out vats of synthetic stage blood into small plastic bags that the 10 performers hide inside their costumes, palms and in some instances, their mouths. (The fake blood used tastes unspeakably vile. It is like drinking liquid jelly beans. But it is safe for human consumption.)

While fellow crew members Krystina Lambdin (the costume designer) and Dorrian Wilson (the wardrobe supervisor) are responsible for laundering the stage garments immediately after the curtain call and returning the lacy nightgowns to their original pristine white, it’s Gulotta who mops the stage floor after the show and gets rid of the “evidence.”

“We dedicated an entire morning to a blood rehearsal,” Gulotta said cheerfully before a recent matinee.

“We tested three sizes of blood-filled bags. We tested how the bags behaved when they were shaken and pummeled. Blood from the veins is a different color than arterial blood, and we had to decide what color we wanted. We tested it to see how far it would squirt when it was pierced.”

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of 'Dracula' goes through about half a gallon of blood during each performance.
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of 'Dracula' goes through about half a gallon of blood during each performance. (HANDOUT)

And she looks so innocent.

Gulotta said that “Dracula’s” cast goes through about half a gallon of blood during each performance. Since the average adult human body contains between one and 1.5 gallons of blood according to several online medical websites, she will have disposed of the equivalent of somewhere between six and nine corpses by the time the show has completed its 19-performance run.

For each performance, she prepares: 13 baggies containing between two and five tablespoons of the viscous fluid. When the translucent plastic bags are filled with the liquid and tied off at the top, the result — quivery, garnet-colored pouches with one pointy end — bears an unsettling resemblance to a human heart.

Before each show, Gulotta also prepares two blood capsules; two blood-filled water bottles and three blood-soaked sponges. She stuffs this last item inside a rat puppet. The sponges are meant to replicate the rodent’s innards, which one character crams into his mouth onstage.

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Ewwww!

In fact, the stage gets covered with so much blood that this particular prop accounts for its own line item on the production budget sheet. At $140 a gallon, “Dracula’s” blood expenditure comes out to about $1,330 — or roughly half of Lambdin’s entire costume budget.

Actor Michael P. Sullivan plays the title role in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of "Dracula."
Actor Michael P. Sullivan plays the title role in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of "Dracula."(HANDOUT)

“You can’t produce ‘Dracula,’ and not have a lot of blood,” said Kyle Rudgers, the troupe’s production manager. “If we’re going to ‘Dracula,’ we have to really commit. I said, ‘Let’s make it as bloody as possible.’”

Never mind that fake blood is every bit as slippery as the real stuff — or that all the blood rehearsals in the world can’t predict with any accuracy where each drop will land on a given night.

“It gets everywhere,” Lambdin said," under the actors’ armpits, on top of their heads. It coats their shoelaces."

Luckily, she sees to it that every pair of Victorian-appearing footwear worn by the performers includes a non-Victorian rubber sole to help their feet grip the stage and remain upright. Nonetheless, Scott Alan Small, the actor portraying the rat-eating asylum inmate Renfield, has learned to be careful where he plants his toes.

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“Even when the script calls for you to rush across the stage,” he said, “you learn not to make any sudden stops.”

Lambdin is just grateful that the corn syrup-based fake blood washes out of polyester with almost magical ease. That’s a blessing in a production like this, where and she and Wilson must do two loads of laundry after the final curtain while hand-washing numerous other garments. It can make for long work days.

But dip even the most blood-befouled corset in a tub of warm water and swish, swish, swish — Lucy’s lace nightgown, or a doctor’s lab coat — is restored to its original snowy sheen.

“I didn’t have to design so many white garments,” Lambdin acknowledges. “I could have chosen a darker palette for all of the costumes. But, we wanted the blood to really pop visually.”

As the fanged count and his vampire brethren can attest, there isn’t just one type of stage blood any more than there’s just one type of chocolate. There’s blood jam (which stays put where it’s applied, such as on a murderer’s hands) blood syrup (for effects that require blood to slowly ooze and drip) and blood juice (prized for its superior airborne attributes.)

And, it isn’t just the actors who get doused. Theatergoers who have purchased front row seats for “Dracula” are warned in advance that they could get squirted — and are given the option of selecting other seats.

Indeed, a recent Sunday matinee demonstrated just how impressive a trajectory can be achieved by a well-squirted bag of blood.

Late in the show is a particularly gory special effect that we won’t reveal here. Suffice it to say that during that performance, the blood shot across the stage in a tremendous arc and splattered the shirt and face of a young customer and vampire-in-training sitting in the front row near Dracula’s coffin.

As the blood landed, the boy, who appeared to be about 7, held both his arms away from his torso and glanced down to assess the damage. His expression held a mixture of surprise and wary delight. Then he raised one bloody arm and brought it close to his face.

Without missing a beat, he licked.

If you go

“Dracula” runs through Nov. 2 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 S. Calvert St. Tickets cost $17-$53. For details, go to chesapeakeshakespeare.com or call 410-244-8570.

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