ZOMBIE PROM! Macbeth! Carrie! Sweeney Todd! These shows run the gamut of setting, theme, and tone, but they have one thing in common: the need for spectacularly bloody stage effects. In my experience, audiences love blood and guts. But with all the places to use blood onstage, you could easily spend hundreds of dollars on blood makeup alone.

When the Greensboro (N.C.) Police Department approached me to assist them in producing a live automobile crash reenactment that looked as real as possible, I was given no budget. I had to find cheap alternatives … and fast. I Googled. I called friends who are makeup artists. I even went back to my old college notebooks. Ultimately, through significant trial and error, I developed a variety of effective recipes using inexpensive, everyday ingredients. Here’s what worked for me.


Prepare a basic blood recipe with the following three ingredients.

  • 1 part chocolate syrup (make sure cocoa is listed as one of the main ingredients and that the syrup uses minimal food coloring to ensure the right color and consistency)
  • 2 parts corn syrup
  • Red food coloring (either liquid or gel forms work), added slowly until you achieve your desired color

That’s it. Sticky, to be sure, but safe to ingest if you need to create a blood capsule opened by an actor’s mouth to approximate a busted lip or bloody nose during a fistfight. This mixture also can be poured as a cocktail for Dracula to drink from his goblet. The recipe will wash off your stage with a mop and simple bleach and water cleaning solution, though it will stain light-colored fabrics.

So, how do you prevent a war with your costumer? Add approximately 1/2 part pink liquid dish soap to the basic blood recipe for a washable alternative. It should go without saying that you’ll no longer want to drink this version. Additionally, dish soap will thin your mixture. To give it a more gelatinous texture, add between 1/2 and 1 part glycerin-based lubricant and mix well. This creates a blood substitute that sticks to hands, daggers, and swords but washes easily from clothing, including white costumes.

To create a fixed blood that does not run, a tube of red or blue gel toothpaste mixed with deep red food coloring works nicely. Before applying, seal your actor’s skin with a makeup barrier spray. The spray creates a thin, clear film that protects skin from irritation and prevents staining. It also can be used to set makeup designs after application if your “blood” must stay put for a long time.

The basic blood recipe was used to make this crash reenactment for the Greensboro Police Department more realistic.
The basic blood recipe was used to make this crash reenactment for the Greensboro Police Department more realistic. Photo courtesy of Linda Veneris.


For gorier effects, sometimes blood alone isn’t enough. Oatmeal and granola combined with your fake blood mixture can create the illusion of chipped bone fragments, rocks, or broken glass. Cooked, tubular pastas like ziti make great intestines or brains.

Latex and nose putty are go-to products for professionals creating broken skin and scars. On a small budget, these tools can be simulated using peanut butter added to your basic stage blood recipe or by combining oatmeal with corn syrup and red food coloring.

Another scar alternative involves tearing small pieces of white tissue paper and combining them with corn syrup or aloe vera. Mold the mixture in place on your actor’s skin until you create the look you want. Tissue paper added to peanut butter and red food coloring can also be shaped into an open wound. Pouring the stage blood mixture on top makes the injury appear fresh.


Squibs, or exploding blood packs, are useful when you want to simulate blood that appears as the result of a gunshot or swordfight. When creating your own squib, it’s best to use cheap, thin plastic bags. The thinner the bag, the easier it will be for your actors to burst their squibs onstage.

Fill the plastic bag with a golf ball-sized amount of the washable stage blood, and tie it tightly closed with a piece of twine or dental floss. Tie the bag a second time about one 1/2 inch above the first closure. Then use tape to attach the blood pack to the inside of your actor’s costume or have actors hide the pack inside their fist. To burst the squib, actors should hit their hand hard against their body. When taping the bag inside a costume, use a tight-fitting undershirt or ace bandage as a protective layer. Taping the bag directly to your actor’s skin could cause irritation.


What do you do if you have actors with allergies? First, it’s important to know your actor’s specific allergy. You don’t want a real emergency. Soy butter substitutes for peanut butter. Carob syrup works well as an alternative to chocolate syrup. And red beet powder mixed with a small amount of water can replace traditional food coloring, though be aware that liquid dyes will water down your recipe, so you’ll need to add glycerin-based lubricant to thicken your mixture. All of these ingredients are a little more expensive, but safety should be your primary concern.

My last piece of advice is this: experiment. Play. It’s what we do best in theatre. Only through experimentation will you find the combination of ingredients that works best for you.

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