Sunday, March 11, 2012

Entertaining with Blood and Guts

"kill a little kid or two a prince
                                                              or something they like
                                                              a little pathos along with
                                                                         the dirt" 

"Pete the Parrot and Shakespeare"
Don Marquis
ASC Rehearsal of Lady Macduff's Assassination
Pictured here: Jonathan Dewberry, Elizabeth Belzoni, Colin Ryan
photo by Lauren Casselberry
Nothing sells like violence, and William Shakespeare understood that better than anyone.  His objective was to put "bums on seats," as they said at the Globe (or the Rose or whichever venue they were playing) and get sell the standing room around the stage.  Shakespeare knew that he was competing with the most compelling entertainments of his day: bear baiting and executions.  And both were gruesomely bloody and attracted audiences in droves.

So knowing that he must lure his people away from the hangings, beheadings and drawings and quarterings at venues like Tyburn, Shakespeare wrote in his scenes a fair modicum of blood and gore, and he employed the best stage tricks of the day to ensure that the audience would get the most for their money.

According to the history of fencing, Shakespeare was the first playwright to recognize how compelling an onstage sword fight could be, and he incorporated a fencing school into his company, requiring that all actors partake of the instruction; in the school they learned how to use daggers as well as rapiers, the most popular swords of the day

Rapiers and Daggers
Before performing a violent play, Shakespeare's actors would fill vessels such as pigs' bladders with blood or a liquid resembling blood, which would then be concealed beneath their costumes. Onstage, a character had only to pound a fist against a bladder to release the blood and thus die a visually gruesome death. Truly fortunate groundlings would be splattered with the "blood" and could return home with vicariously gained spoils of slaughter on their clothing.

At the Globe
Violence is, of course, far more effective if it's loud.  In Shakespeare's day, stagehands in the wings simulated thunder by striking a sheet of metal or pounding a drum. They occasionally exploded fireworks during battle scenes and  lit torches during night scenes. Simple theatricalities such as these could fire up an audience's imagination and stir untold excitement.

Michael Basile and Elizabeth Belzoni
Photo by Lauren Casselberry
Fight Scenes choreographed by Guest Fight Director Mark McCarthy
In the upcoming ASC production of Macbeth, both Denise Hurd, the company's fight director, as Lady Macbeth, and Michael Basile, as Macbeth, along with the assassins they hire will be yielding deadly weapons in this production of Macbeth, and the passion with which they will wield their weaponry is just the right stuff with which to titillate the audience's desire for stage savagery.


1 comment:

Peter Galman said...

Let's not forget that the murders committed offstage are graphically described and the horror seen in the murderer's eyes and heard in speech is more caviar for the imagination.