Gore and The Moors: A Halloween Treat from APT

Posted October 22, 2022

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This Halloween, embrace your own morbid curiosity and explore the magic of theatrical special effects. We're going backstage on 2022 summer favorite The Moors to uncover the secrets of putting together a bloody good scene. Read on for more and to find some never-before-seen photos from this summer!

To say there’s a lot going on in Jen Silverman’s The Moors would be a massive understatement. The story's twists and turns are simultaneously dark and delightful, and if you joined us in the Touchstone this past summer, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Now as we approach Halloween, we thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to take you behind the scenes and walk through just how much work, sweat - and, yes - blood, went into constructing the epic final fight between our two favorite spinster sisters, Agatha and Huldey.

We sat down to chat with APT Properties Director, Nathan Stuber about how to orchestrate the perfect (onstage and fictional) murder. Spoilers ahead. If you dare.


The Moors, 2022. Scenic Design by Nathan Stuber. Photo by Liz Lauren.

When first given the task of staging a murderous moment, you may be asking yourself where to even begin. As with everything APT does, it all goes back to the language. “Jen Silverman, the playwright, wrote perfect stage directions,” shared Nathan Stuber. Stuber served as Scenic Designer for The Moors as well as oversaw all the props used onstage. “She told us how we need to feel about what we witness, but doesn’t spell out every detail. The stage direction gives us flexibility. Initially, as a design team, we compiled some images to focus the conversation. The image that I kept circling back to was the scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton caves in Jared Leto’s face - the ‘I wanted to destroy something beautiful’ scene.”

From there, conversations continued to grow and define elements across the entire production. “We made the decision that the environment should be very sparse, and any objects at hand could be used as an implement of violence. We also knew that we would want to feature the blood, the ‘splash of color’, as Huldey says. A monochrome world would make the blood all that more shocking. We also decided to make the floor as high gloss as we could afford to help with the blood clean up and to prevent potential staining over the course of the run.”

While actors Tracy Michelle Arnold and Kelsey Brennan worked with fight director Jeb Burris and director Kierra Fromm in constructing the movement portion of their battle, Stuber and his team got to work “exploring the violence.” “With the help of Mieka van der Ploeg, costume designer, and Brandi Mans, assistant costume designer, we gathered a kit of items to explore the introduction of blood. Squirt bottles, sponges, bags to hold fluid, rehearsal costumes, and lots of towels. After the violence was staged and restaged to take into consideration safety and sight lines, we had a liquid rehearsal where we slowly worked all of the pieces and parts of the violence. We talked about blood delivery options for each moment. We only worked with water in the rehearsal hall, saving the introduction of blood until we were on the set and in real costumes during tech.”

And if you’re wondering exactly what makes the best fake stage blood, Stuber has the answer for you. “Because we needed to clean up the blood that ended up all over the furniture and floors and wall and people and sometimes audience members, we needed to use a product that was predictable, would come off costumes, and was ultimately safe for the actors to get on their skin and potentially in their mouths and eyes. We leaned on a product called ‘Gravity and Momentum.’ We’ve used it in the past (see: Macbeth, 2019), and it cleans up easily with dish soap and water.”

According to Stuber, about three cups of stage blood were used per performance of The Moors. “Most of it was slightly diluted to get the best mix of ‘squirtability’ and coverage.”

The “'squirtablity' and coverage” referenced were two extremely important factors in putting this sort of blood ballet together. Always a team effort, the onstage fight was the collective efforts of several artists on and off stage. And, if you're at all curious, the stage blood is slightly sweet in flavor in case it does get in the actors' mouths.

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Tracy Michelle Arnold and Kelsey Brennan, The Moors, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren.

But how did the blood get onstage, seemingly out of nowhere? Stuber walked us through the elaborate special effects set-up. “When Tracy enters scene 14, she is armed with a ‘blood bomb’. This is simply a small sandwich baggie filled with about 2 ounces of stage blood that has been tied off with a hair band. Throughout the first three pages of the scene, she has this in her nightgown pocket, and when she goes to sit down as she tells Huldey (Kelsey Brennan) how bad the writing in the diary is, she palms the blood bomb. After Kelsey cracks Tracy in the face with the heavy silver tray, (another sleight of hand… the ‘crack’ of the strike is actually Kelsey slapping the tray with her hand) Tracy brings her hands to her face and bursts the blood bomb onto her nose. As she gets up and stumbles around the back of the chair, Kelsey drops the tray and that distraction allows Tracy to drop the now empty baggie onto the floor upstage of the chair.

After that, a lot happens very quickly. Tracy stumbles, dazed and pushes the side chair out of the way and tips it over. This clears floor space for later violence. At the same time, Kelsey grabs the candlestick, snaps the candle off, and comes after Tracy, who by this time is on the floor and backing her way into the hallway. This is where things get chaotic. Crouched in the hallway is Kenji Shoemaker, the show’s assistant stage manager, who has been hiding in a 24” square of real estate that is out of sight line to the audience, and has been there for the entire scene. With him, he has three large condiment-style squirt bottles full of stage blood, a Tupperware container of stage blood with a soaked rag, a small container with a cosmetic sponge soaked in stage blood, and another small bulb-style squeeze bottle. Tracy has slid into the hallway on her back as Kelsey closes in on her with the candlestick, screaming.


Kelsey Brennan, The Moors, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Kenji uses one bottle to squirt blood on Tracy and uses the other to squirt the wall as Kelsey slams the candles stick into a crash pad on the back of the wall to provide a sound foley as if she was hitting Tracy in the face. When Kelsey leans over to grab Tracy and drag her back onstage, Kenji douses Kelsey in the chest with blood and continues to squirt Tracy. This all happens in a matter of seconds.

While all of this is happening, Tracy has palmed the small bulb squeeze bottle and the stage blood-soaked sponge. Kelsey drags Tracy out of the hallway and into the now-open area where the chair was. As Kelsey crouches on top of Tracy and shouts ‘I HAVE A SONG!! ABOUT ME! NOBODY ELSE HERE HAS A SONG!,’ punctuating her lines with punches, Tracy squirts Kelsey (and sometimes the audience) with blood."


Kelsey Brennan and Tracy Michelle Arnold, The Moors, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren.

"The last moment of blood comes in the blackout. After Kelsey has been sucked into the Moors and the lights go to black, Tracy finds her way off stage and Kenji uses his larger blood-soaked rag to leave a large swipe of blood to give the illusion that Agatha has been drug offstage. Backstage the wardrobe team ‘catches’ Kelsey and Tracy as they come offstage in towels and makes sure they safely step onto tarps where they drip blood and wait for the curtain call. Afterwards Tracy and Kelsey strip out for their blood soaked costumes backstage and head to the showers. And then it's all about 100 microfiber cloths and buckets of soapy water and a lot of laundry. Easy, right?"


Tracy Michelle Arnold and Kelsey Brennan, The Moors, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Impressive? Yes. Easy? No. Yet, Stuber reassures us that anyone can try their hand and develop their own skills when it comes to creating splashy prop moments like this. "The dirty secret is that there is no magic in ‘stage magic’. Everything you see is a product of collective effort and knowledge. Everything I do as a props artisan is based on information that everyone with an internet connection and a library card can access if they have the time and know where to look. I’m blessed with the ability to apply financial resources towards experimentation. The whole bloody fiasco you witnessed when you saw The Moors was a culmination of many months of conversation between really creative and intelligent people, each one bringing their own experiences and ideas to the table. We also have the benefit of taking the lessons of past productions and refining those lessons to suit each new show. To use a sports analogy - there is nothing new in our playbook. We all play by the same rules but sometimes with the right players and the right combination of play calls we can absolutely crush it."