VCU Theatre gets gross, gruesome with gore

Ben Gadams
Contributing Writer

Photo by Christian Martinez

A class entered Introduction to Theatrical Makeup Oct. 21 and 22 looking like typical college students. After 30 minutes, they had deep gashes and horrifying diseases that could make the stomach curl. Under the direction of professor Maura Cravey, the class piled on the gore, shared the process of applying wound makeup and gave some helpful tips to recreate certain looks just in time for Halloween.

For VCU Theatre, teaching students how to look infected by deadly diseases is an essential and entertaining element of the production process. Winner of several costume design awards, Cravey teaches her students how to apply makeup, transforming themselves into other people or terrifying monsters. This week, the students demonstrated their skills in oozing wounds and atrocious afflictions. Encouraging the class to work hard, Cravey said unrealistic makeup will detract from the performance.

“In theatre, it’s important to make the wounds look as realistic as possible, not just for Halloween,” Cravey said.

During her class, students lined up in front of the mirrors, trying their best to look their worst. There were severe facial burns, long cuts across the face, bite marks on arms, bruises and gangrene-infested hands. Sophomore Everardo Sosa, a performance major, said he took stage makeup in order to expand his knowledge of theatre.

“They want us to explore as many aspects of theatre as we can. You take classes in a little bit of everything,” Sosa said. “It’s great to know what other people do to help us as artists.”

It was clear that the students were having fun with gore, too. They took out their supplies, trying to get a feel for the process. First, the students did research. They entered the classroom with a clear idea of what they wanted to do, right down to detailed drawings, photos and back-stories. Theatre student Michael Isaac looked like he had just been in a fight, which was exactly what he was going for.

“I literally told the story like, ‘I broke my nose. I don’t know, it was bleeding,’” Isaac said.

Isaac was inspired by images of UFC fighters post-fight, and replicated the cuts and gashes on his face precisely.

Without a plan, makeup application can quickly turn into a huge mess. Cravey said since VCU has a medical research college, plenty of resources are available for finding inspiration. Once ideas are in order, the next step is to get supplies.

The materials required are easy to find in a party store or costume store. The theater students used makeup foundation of assorted browns, reds, greens, blues and tans for blending, bruising and burning. Colored grease pencils were used for basic outlines, cuts and scrapes. Modeling wax helped create scars, blemishes and deeper wounds. Liquid latex added texture to burns and damaged tissue. Spirit gum was used to keep wax and prosthetics from slipping around. Fake blood gave cuts and gashes that freshly-wounded feel. Makeup sponges and paper towels blended makeup. Makeup remover and spirit gum remover makes removal much, much easier.

During class the process was split in two, depending on what was desired. On one side there were burns and bruises, and on the other there were cuts and gashes. The students all started with makeup foundation of various colors, so that underneath everything was a base color to provide added realism. Foundation for bruises can be blacks, blues, greens and more. Red foundation should be applied to large areas of skin that will have blood. The foundation is blended in using a sponge. Modeling wax is thick and heavy, so it should be used only as needed. Spirit gum should be spread on outlined areas, then the wax can be stuck on. Cravey emphasized the importance of rolling the wax around first so that it can be warmed and softened. Wax could be used on a deep gash, where it acts as the skin around the gash, raising the skin so that the wound can look deeper when fake blood is applied.

“Putting on the wax is the hardest part,” said Sosa, displaying a nasty bite mark on his arm. “You wish it was like clay, but it’s not.”

Once all of the wax and foundation has been applied, and it is blended to look as real as possible, the blood can be added. This should be done sparingly so as not to make a mess. For those attempting to create burns, liquid latex is a useful tool for adding that blistery texture. Cravey said she believes this is one of the hardest parts for the average student to accomplish.

“There’s a couple little techniques that you would need to be taught for blisters and things like that,” Cravey said.

The key to getting blisters right, Cravey said, is to pick at the latex just before it dries on the skin. Picking and stretching the latex slightly can go a long way in making blisters and burns look more realistic. The rest of the process is just tweaking to get the small details just right. Cravey recommended sticking to the plan and not being afraid to play around a little.

The next big tip learned from the makeup class: be prepared to take off whatever you put on. As the students finished up their makeup and had their pictures taken for grading, the potential pains of makeup removal became apparent, especially when latex was involved. The general message received from the groans and cries of agony was to use latex only as needed, and keep the latex far from the eyes and hair. Also avoid getting latex or wax in the sink, as it can clog drains.

Theatre student Gabriella Lawson finished the class sporting an impressive amount of facial bruising and a hand infected with gangrene. The hand was complete with peeling skin and fingers that looked ready to fall off. She said anyone can achieve similar results with enough work.

“It’s not as hard as it looks,” Lawson said. “(With makeup), you have the freedom to create whatever you desire to create.”

As a whole, the class looked convincingly terrible. An uninformed observer might wonder why no one made efforts to go to the hospital. Others might wonder what in the world Cravey had done to her students. For the theatre students, it was all part of the act.

“We do the down and dirty things to make it work,” Cravey said. “I show you the inexpensive way to do things.”

Anyone can potentially make their own wounds with makeup. The supplies are affordable and easy to find. The closest shop to VCU is Premiere Costumes in the west end of Carytown, but there are places such as Party City and Spirit Halloween in Glen Allen. With an idea in mind and some practice, a person can transform themselves into a zombie from the Walking Dead or a creature from a nuclear fallout with a little effort this Halloween.

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