Picture: 'Titus Andronicus' blood test

Orlando Shakespeare Theater artistic director Jim Helsinger throws a bucket of ¿blood¿ on Kaitlyn Donelon during preparation for ¿Titus Andronicus." (Orlando Shakespeare Theater / March 20, 2013)


Blood will flow.

And gush.

And splatter.

And drip.

When Orlando Shakespeare Theater opens "Titus Andronicus" on Friday, March 29, the stage will be awash in red.

Shakespeare's grim tale of the damaging — and frequently fatal — effects of revenge is a mix of violence and poetic writing. The Shakes bills it as the "'Pulp Fiction' of the Elizabethan Age."

Artistic director Jim Helsinger evokes a slasher film, calling it "the 'Friday the 13th' of 1598."

Although during Shakespeare's lifetime it was his most-performed play, "Titus Andronicus" is staged much less frequently today. The gory story might make theater companies squeamish — but not Helsinger.

"When I first mentioned it, everyone seemed to shy away from the blood," Helsinger says. "I was hearing, 'Will we use red strings? Red ribbons? How will you avoid the blood?'"

But Helsinger had just the opposite approach in mind.

"I wanted to walk into it — to wade into it — and not walk away," says Helsinger, who is directing the play for the first time. To him, the blood is vital to making the audience feel the emotional depths of the dark play.

"All blood on stage is symbolic, of course," he says. "But at the same time it's visceral. We connect to it. We've seen our own. It's our life force."

That life force drains from most of the story's characters as an unlucky 13 die as the story plays out.

At an early read-through, Helsinger addresses his actors, sitting around a table in front of "blood"-spattered place cards: "Raise your hands if you die in this play."

Nearly every arm shoots into the air.


Real blood has different types; stage blood has recipes. A laundry-detergent-based blood is preferred because it's easier to clean up — but can be unpleasant if it gets into an actor's mouth or eyes. One mix calls for just plain water and dye, but other ingredients could include peanut butter (for thickening) and cotton (to simulate brain matter).

The most important ingredient, of course, is red food coloring.

"We're buying it by the gallon," Helsinger says.