Students learn stage combat, blood and gore design for the theater

Actor, choreographer and designer Jon Beal leads two master classes for students

Sutton Travis

From perfecting the stage slap to creating the perfect consistency of peanut butter blood, Washington and Lee students in Jon Beal’s master class learned a variety of techniques to supplement any theatrical performance.

As an actor, fight choreographer and blood and gore designer, Beal is truly a jack-of-all-trades. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he shared his knowledge with students through two classes: a Stage Combat Workshop and a Blood & Gore Design Workshop.

“He could not have been more enthusiastic,” Payton Fricke, ‘18, said. “He was very animated and you could tell he is very proud of the work that he does–as he should be. It was hard to not be excited during these workshops because of how truly excited and positive he was.”

Beal is a member of Theater Professor Jemma Levy’s Muse of Fire Theatre Company, which is located just outside of Chicago. Levy said the Theater Department was especially interested in bringing Beal to campus because of his expertise in both onstage and backstage work.

“It is rare to find someone who can teach skills applicable to both cast and crew,” Levy said. “I hope students gained an appreciation for areas of theatre artistry that they didn’t know existed.”

During the Stage Combat Workshop, Beal taught stage slaps, punches, hair pulling and chokes. Beal demonstrated each action first, then gave the class a chance to break into partners and try it for themselves.

“I really appreciated the fact that he went very slow and was more than willing to explain things to us more than once,” Fricke said. “It’s neat because I now have a better understanding and appreciation for the work that goes into creating stage combat performances.”

For the Blood & Gore Workshop, Levy, who is directing the Theater Department’s upcoming production of “Dracula,” asked Beal to incorporate design elements they will use in the show, which will be performed Feb. 9-12.

As a “Dracula” company member, Win Gustin, ‘20, attended the workshop to get an idea of how to create some of the show’s special effects. These include using hidden blood packs, bags and cannons to make blood appear in different ways, as well as performing a live blood transfusion onstage.

“He hooked up an IV of fake blood to our director to show how we’ll be able to make a blood transfusion work, and it was pretty cool,” Gustin said. “I don’t think there was a dull moment for the entire hour and a half.”

Beal also taught students how to make fake organs and create different consistencies of stage blood using corn syrup, food dyes, peanut butter and chocolate syrup. Students were even allowed to make their own blood and take their “blood bags” home as souvenirs.

Levy said students interested in learning more about creating special effects should consider taking Professor Owen Collins’ spring term class, Special Effects for Theater. The course will cover many of the techniques taught in Beal’s masterclass, along with other kinds of effects.

“Theatre artists generally love what they do, and we like to show students why,” Levy said.