Accessory to Murder - The Backstage Crew

Tue, 03/01/2011

This is a bloody show. I won’t spoil whose blood it is or how it gets there, but suffice it to say a lot of blood ends up on stage by the end and it all has to get cleaned up every night. The clean up process begins even before the show starts. A crew of six arrives about two hours before every show. In addition to the basic pre show set up (setting the stage, making sure props and costumes are ready to go) we also prepare for the post show clean up. Trashcans are lined so bloody props can immediately go downstairs to be cleaned. Bins of soapy water are placed backstage and downstairs so costumes can begin to soak as soon as the actors undress. Cleaning supplies are always at the ready.

The cleanup begins in earnest as soon as the actors exit after their final bow. As with any mess, the first step is containment. The backstage area is already lined with sheets of muslin and plastic. We have tarps offstage that get placed on either side of the stage to place dirty furniture on and to reduce the amount of blood that gets tracked off stage. The stage of Plays and Players is raked, or sloped, so the blood immediately begins to trickle downstage. A line of sheets tied together is placed along the edge of the stage to stop the running and to help absorb some of the blood. The stage has to be cleared first, so furniture is placed on the tarps and props are sorted and placed in the appropriate trashcans. A wet vac is brought out to suck up the liquid and the stage gets a once over with a squeegee. The furniture and walls then have to be wiped. The blood begins to dry very quickly so the key is keeping everything wet. In addition to making it easier to clean, this also reduces the amount of scrubbing which can begin to strip paint off the set. A hose is connected to the sink downstairs and run up to the stage so it can be sprayed down. We also have a handheld sprayed, which is designed to spray weed killer, to get those hard to reach places. To clean the walls, I have learned, you have to alternate between a wet sponge and wiping with a dry towel which cuts down on the streaks. Finally we finish with two rounds of mopping. On Sundays (the end of our performance week) we have a few added duties such as stripping the offstage muslin and leaving our cats out to dry for the two day hiatus.

The first time we ran the show with all the blood the clean up process took us over two hours. A lot of tech week was devoted to figuring out a master plan and how best to execute it. Two weeks into the run everyone pretty much knows their tasks and what needs to happen. We have become something of a well oiled cleaning machine. By now we have gotten the clean up down to about an hour and a half. However, when we come back to the theater the next day we somehow always manage to find something else to clean. Without fail you can find a pool of blood under the deck of the stage or a spot we missed on the walls. There are also eight loads of laundry that need to be done before every show. The washer and dryer are usually running right up until the next day’s show, particularly on Sundays when the turnaround between shows is so much faster due to the matinees.

All this cleaning has had some unanticipated side effects. My hands have taken on a peculiar orange hue from all the contact with the blood. I also find that audience members tend to linger after the show is over. They make their way up to the stage to get a better look, sometimes they even ask us questions about the clean up. Opening night I even noticed a man up in the balcony. He had gotten a beer from the after party and it appeared he had decided to kick back and watch the action. I like to think of ourselves as the post show entertainment. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

– Clara Elser