Buckets of Blood: Cleaning Up Murder Every Night On Stage


"Sorry, I'm a little tied up at the moment. Well, not exactly, but someone's tied up."

It’s all fun and games until your cast members start killing each other every night. Then you and your crew have a serious mess to scrub off the floor and walls, as I documented in a recent Stage Directions cover story on the art of cleaning up stage blood (text version here and full color PDF version here — go to page 28).

When I saw Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore on Broadway in August 2006, it was the goriest, grisliest piece of theater I had ever witnessed. (I was on a first date; thank God she was an actress with a sense of humor.) The Irish tale, which has been staged in regional theaters across the country ever since, revolves around a father whose son (Padraic) is a one-man terrorist “splinter group” so brutal and feared that even the IRA won’t touch him. But he isn’t so fastidious about his work that he cannot take a call from his father during a torture session. When Padraic’s beloved cat (and only friend) dies after being run over, his father and a family friend fear the rage he will go into when he returns home. Once he does, he has to cope not only with his grief and anger but a murder plot by a rival, three-person splinter group and the romantic obsession from a wannabe terrorist girlfriend. Ultimately the show’s dark take on the futility of violence and terrorism leads to some horrible, and horribly funny, consequences. I loved it.

Thus when The Lieutenant Of Inishmore took up a short residence at the Signature Theatre in Virginia in late 2008, I had to ask their production assistant Brooke Marshall how she and her fellow crew members dealt with washing away the pools of blood spewing from gunshot wounds and amputated limbs night after night. Theater buffs should be amused and horror fans delighted by this look into the art of handling and cleaning up fake blood night after night after night. Fruit flies and fumigation come with the show!

A piece of theater that Quentin Tarantino would adore.

An intense play that Quentin Tarantino would adore.

One tidbit that did not make into the story is this quote from scenic designer Dan Conway regarding arterial spray: “We had about six blood cannons placed all over the set, and our biggest problem was not getting the blood to blow on to the audience or to go on the expensive photomurals that were the backings of the set. We had some real panic [during] the first tech that we did because some of the pressure in the blood canons was a little too high, and they just blew blood everywhere. Even into the run of the show we still had blood from the first row of the audience to the edge of the stage. It was insane. We debated pulling a Blue Man Group and giving everybody in the front row plastic to put on their laps because we were very, very worried. In fact, in previews we bloodied somebody very well.”

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