The Making of Carrie: the Musical; 2nd in Series
One of the most complicated stage effects, whether it be in the theatre or in film, is to make blood look believable. Directors have used ketchup, dyed cornstarch, animal blood, paint, or makeup to make blood look real on an actors’ skin. So how will a public university theatre department accomplish the most pivotal and memorable scene in the entire play?
When Carrie: the Musical posters appeared in residence halls and academic buildings at the start of the spring semester, my friends and I immediately asked how they could possibly do the blood scene. That question fueled my desire to report the process of the production; I wanted answers, and I couldn’t wait until the show’s premiere to get them. Hardly twenty minutes into the first production meeting, the crew asked this exact question. “How do we handle pouring blood on someone in the middle of a live show?” asked stage manager Joel Porter. The director, Ed Wierzbicki, was prepared with a few options.
First, it’s imperative that we know why this bloody scene is so important to the story. Why did it have to be blood? Stephen King’s 1974 novel Carrie opens with Carrietta White experiencing her first menstrual cycle: “In a flickering kaleidoscope of images she saw the blood running thickly down her naked thighs, hear the constant beating of the shower on the tiles, felt the soft patter of tampons and napkins against her skin as voices exhorted her to plug it UP, tasted the plump, fulsome bitterness of horror.” This mark of womanhood, this event, is strongly symbolic for Carrie. “It’s her womanhood and finding herself,” says Wierzbicki. It only makes sense for this story to start and end with “the Curse of Blood.”
This is what the audience remembers the most—the blood. Mention the name Carrie in a crowded room and everyone will think of Sissy Spacek soaked head-to-toe in the 1976 movie adaptation. People have gone far enough to write their own poetry about the blood; a man even performs his ode to this great and gory symbol at the Bushwick Book Club in Seattle.
In past adaptations of the play, theatre companies either dropped fake blood out of a bucket onto the stage or used lighting, projection, and sounds to make the effect without the use of liquids, like the harbingers of the Off Broadway Revival did in 2012. Wierzbicki mentions the revival, recalling, “What they did was all silhouette. They did some projections, moving images, but they also did just a lot of light work, all in shadows. You see [Billy] pulling rope and the shadow of a bucket goes up. It’s not the real bucket—as a matter of fact, you can see it right on stage—but it doesn’t matter, the audience sees what’s going on. Then when we come back for the big dump, the projection has the bucket going, and it’s all sound. No liquid, nothing. The red light pours in with the soundscape and the orchestra, and all of a sudden she reacts and you’re so riveted. You’re like, ‘I got it!’ I got the blood. That’s how they approached it.”
The crew draws from this inspiration. Lighting director Tom Callery even suggests taking the projections farther than just a shadowy bucket. “There’s also been times where they’ve used projections and used the dress as…the projection screen…a projection does that work for you.” He recalls Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie at the 2016 Grammys, specifically the first minute, when orange liquid and a spider are projected onto Gaga’s face.
Other members had different ideas. Rather than simply projecting the blood onto Carrie during the scene, or using a red light, the crew is attempting to use UV paint and light to bring Scary White to life in her iconic moment, and they may be among the first to do it. YouTube archives can only be so reliable to confirm this, but I’d like to think Central’s theatre department is so creative that they are the first to add this new level to the musical. Christopher Hoyt, costume designer, explains during the meeting, “We’ve been researching what it would be to pour either water or no substance at all and then paint her dress—this is the prom blood—to paint translucent UV red paint onto the prom dress, or just use red light. We’re really fascinated with this idea of UV paint. We would have a second dress that is covered in blood.” Testing remains to be done. The blood-to-paint-to-lights ratio is still unclear.
A main player in theatrical UV is Wildfire, a lighting and effects company in Venice, California. Since 1989 they have supplied theatres with high quality UV products, including lights, paints, and dyes, and hopefully they will serve the theatre department in lighting up the terrible rage of Carrie White.
Could UV paint really create an illusion to convince an audience? Cortney Novella, assistant director, expresses concern about it. Having worked with makeup and effects for countless other shows, she knows these products tend to tint. Her question remains unanswered for the time being. “We don’t know what it’s like, or what it looks like,” admits Hoyt. To paint or not to paint, that is the question.
When I return on March 8th to the third production meeting, a lot of these “maybes” turn into a feasible reality. About twenty minutes in, Hoyt turns off the fluorescent lights and turns on the ultra-violets. A pink dress, previously overlooked, lights up red like a satanic Christmas tree. Tinting is not a problem anymore; this dress is undeniably red and bloody. The paint goes on clear, invisible in plain fluorescent lighting. Even if some of the red paint is peeking through, it works to the crew’s advantage that the dress is pink.
It seems as if when one problem is solved, more arise. Now that the dress is taken care of, they need the rest of Carrie to be blood-soaked. For the UV lights to have the greatest effect, there cannot be any other light pollution. The production is called Carrie: the Musical, not Carrie’s Floating Bloody Dress: the Musical. Unfortunately, even the scariest teenager has to adhere to warning labels; the paint is not safe for human skin.
Luckily, artificial blood is safe. The crew is ordering fake blood from the company, Gravity & Momentum, who claims to have “the finest stage blood in the world.” Their blood, differing by consistency, is favored in the theatre world for its easy-to-remove quality and safety on human skin. Crews can use as much blood as they want without fear of staining clothes or floors, allowing the CCSU production to use as much blood as they want. Or, rather, as much as the budget will allow.
The team is six production meetings in, and many things are still up in the air. “It’s harder than it looks and it’s harder than it sounds,” contends Wierzbicki. To see if this crew perfects the blood-to-paint-to-light ratio, you’ll just have to come see the show yourself on April 27th.