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Blood/Fights: How Does It Look So Real?

Nick Dillenburg as Proteus and Andrew Veenstra as Valentine in 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona,' directed by PJ Paparelli. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Teenage love holds the potential for some blood, fights and tears, especially in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. There are quite a few fights in this production and certainly a good amount of blood. To make it all look real, STC turned to the professionals, fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt and STC’s own Lead Props Artisan Chris Young.

Let’s focus on the final fight between Valentine and Proteus—definitely the most intricate and violent of all of the fight sequences throughout the production. Before even beginning to choreograph the final fight, Dennhardt discussed numerous contextual questions about the story with the actors. How does the fight serve to advance and resolve the action? Reveal character? Lead to reconciliation? These were all important questions that determined who started the fight, what type of fighting it was, who won, etc. “We decided the fight had to be messy, that they weren’t trained fighters or martial artists, just young men driven by a kind of hormonal rage,” explained Dennhardt. “We wanted it to look sloppy, like a school yard brawl. Because of this I choreographed mistakes, awkward blows, slips and falls into the fight.”

When it came to bloodying up the fight, Dennhardt said, “PJ (Paparelli, Two Gents director) always wanted to use blood to heighten the danger and reveal the consequences of violence, not glorify it.” With that, the actors spent a lot of time coordinating the delivery and amount of blood that showed up on them using small plastic bags filled with water. Then, once tech time came around, a movie blood called “Reel Blood” replaced the water bags to make the punches land realistically. Chris Young described “Reel Blood” as having “the best color, washes out best and comes off skin well.” According to Young, “The first time we ran the fight with blood, the bag burst with such force that the blood made it to the fourth row.” Yikes!

Young would always give the same advice to the actors—“Keep it out of your eyes.” No matter how body-friendly they make the fake blood, it is still soap-based and if it gets in someone’s eyes…OUCH. Young usually tries all of the effects before the actors do it themselves just to make sure everything will be all right once it comes time for the actors to create the blood drama.

Photo of the blood knife actor Miriam Silverman uses in 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona'

When creating the knife Julia, Miriam Silverman’s character, would use, Young described the importance of safety, also noting that the knife needed to be robust enough to last the length of the production, reliable and easy for the crew to clean and reset. For Julia’s knife, Young used a #2 X-ACTO knife and a medicine dropper as the reservoir. The knife was cut and put inside the medicine dropper which was where the “blood” stayed until Silverman squeezed her hand.

There is a lot that goes into making the drama on stage look real to an audience. Thanks to Paul Dennhardt and Chris Young, we now know how the teen drama in The Two Gentlemen of Verona came to life on stage via blood and fights.

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