The Queen of Gore
Its always fun running into someone who has the same interests as yourself in the most unexpected places. Take Siobhan Becken for an example. I ran into he while she was shopping at The Health Concern Herb and Food Shop in Baltimore, Maryland. We got to talking about Blasphemous Cocktails, horror in general, and eventually I discovered that she was an FX artist. As I have always had a fascination with FX I asked her for an interview and the results of that conversation follows.
Tell me about yourself and your experiences?
Thanks for talking to me! I’m a Maryland native and I grew up in Towson. I love it here, and I plan on making art in and around the weird, wonderful city of Baltimore until further notice. I think this city has had a huge influence on me, from John Waters and Divine to Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always been drawn to work that was dark, quirky, weird, and macabre. I am a trained actor, singer, makeup artist and a professional zombie.
After studying theatre at The Community College of Baltimore County at the Essex campus, I went to Towson University where I was accepted into their Acting program and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Acting and Theatre Arts. I’ve been working in Baltimore since graduation and I’ve gotten to experience some really great opportunities so far. I have worked on some really amazing plays, and found some unique chances to explore my love for theatre, singing, haunted houses, scare acting and fx work. I specialize in theatrical horror, gore fx, blood and fantasy work.
I do a lot of work in the independent theatre scene in Baltimore. I’ve worked on some of my absolute favorite plays as an actor, a singer and behind the scenes creating makeup designs. I have gotten to play such an amazing range of parts and I’m so grateful for that. I’ve been a singing insane asylum patient in the French revolution, a female Dr. Frankenstein, a modern take on Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Helen the quirky librarian in “Fat Pig”, a bawdy Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Show and an absurdist scientist wielding a bloody decapitated head on a stage in the middle of Charles Street at ARTscape. There are so many theatre companies in and around Baltimore doing amazing work right now. Glass Mind Theatre, Iron Crow Theatre Company, Annex Theatre and Milburne Stone Theatre have all been a joy to work for as both a performer and makeup artist.
I try to use my career as a “hauntertainter” to give back to the community as much as possible. I currently work for The University of Maryland Medical Center as a freelance moulage injury fx artist and standardized patient for the Shock Trauma program. I use my injury and gore fx makeup and acting skills in simulation exams for doctors and nurses, and it feels great to be a part of their learning process. I have also had a very unique opportunity for the past two years to talk to the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students of Northeast Middle School in Baltimore City, during their art class with their teacher Megan White at Halloween time. The students all have a lot of fun learning about how to create fake burns, cuts and bruises. I talk to them about the importance of doing your homework, like research and character sketches, show them the many different types of theatrical blood and even demonstrate a zombie makeup tutorial for them on their very patient and good sport of a teacher.
Baltimore really is full of so many unique opportunities for actors and artists, and I feel privileged to work in such a creative city.
I was always a creative, weird kid, and I’ve always been drawn to the arts. But I have also been really fortunate to have had some truly amazing teachers in my lifetime that pushed me to follow my dreams. When I was in highschool, I had a theatre teacher who was just as weird and quirky as I was. He really encouraged me when I was going through a very rough time in my life, and believed in me when I didn’t know how to believe in myself yet. His name was Don Leifert, and unfortunately he passed away a few years ago, but his teachings will always continue to influence me and my work ethic. He saw talent in me that I didn’t know I had the capacity for, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if he hadn’t given me the tough love that I needed to realize my goals.
Leifert had starred in several local, low budget horror films by director Don Dohler in the 70s and 80s, and also designed a lot of the special fx and makeup used in them. I really connected with him, his nerdy sense of humor, and his passion for horror. He introduced me to the kinds of theatre that really interested a weirdo like me. Up until then I had only known about classical theatre and happy musicals with pretty, blonde ingénues and cute love stories. He showed me and my classmates very morbid plays, and weird, cult musicals like Sweeney Todd that that were full of gore and murder and humor and beautiful gothic music. He showed me that theatre could be dark, subversive, twisted and bloody, and I was hooked.
I have always loved Halloween and everything horror related, ever since I was a kid. I am a huge, self-admitted zombie nut, a rabid Romero fan (we even share the same birthday!) and an all-around horror nerd, so working in haunts is really a dream job for a theatre geek like me who loves performing and has been making Z-Day Apocalypse plans with her friends since they were teenagers. Now I get paid to scare people for a living and be a real professional zombie! It’s like going to work each day and acting out my favorite horror movies, and I’ve always loved playing the bad guy. I’ve been really fortunate lately to find haunt related attractions and jobs that are open all year, so I don’t have to wait for October to come around anymore. Haunt season isn’t just one month, it’s officially year round for me now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I have been working in the Haunt Industry since 2008, when I was still in college studying theatre. A few of my friends were working in a local haunt for extra cash, and it seemed like a fun idea. I fell in love with it, and I’ve worked at a number of haunted houses over the years since then, such as Field of Screams Maryland, Timonium SCAREgrounds and Bennett’s Curse Haunted Attraction. I have even gotten to see my scare acting and special fx featured on television shows like ESPNU’s “Road Trip”, and TLC’s “Making Monsters”. At Timonium SCAREgrounds, I was once a zombie Janis Joplin who sang “Piece of My Heart”, while ripping a bleeding prop heart that I had made out of my chest. It’s still one of my favorite gigs to date. Last summer I even got to scare act with the infamous metal band GWAR at their annual GWARBQ festival in their hometown of Richmond, VA. I was a featured scare actor in the first ever haunted house designed by the GWAR creative team, Slave Pit Studios, called “The Crypt of Chaos”. I got to scare people while wearing an original GWAR character costume! And I’ll be working with them again this summer.
My makeup fx and acting work have taken me in some really interesting and sometimes unexpected directions lately. In December I worked with up-and-coming electronic singer-songwriter Robert DeLong at his show at U Street Music Hall in Washington DC as a facepainter. I’m a huge fan of his music, and his shows are really unique for his audience because he has a signature tribal facepaint style that he wears onstage, and also has local artists come and facepaint audience members throughout the show for free. It’s really fun and creates a sense of unity with the crowd. I was able to talk to Robert DeLong after his set, and even though I stammered at him all star-struck and stupid, I was able to meet one of my idols and snap a quick picture with him which was so amazing. I look forward to working with his team again at future shows when he comes back to the area. I recently got to be an extra on the Netflix hit show House of Cards in the newest season, in the episode featuring Pussy Riot. It was a really surreal experience to be just a few feet away from them, singing one of their songs.
I am currently a featured artist on the Baltimore LED Art Billboard, located in the Station North Arts District and it has been a huge thrill to see my bloody, gory face 50 feet high in lights, shining down on Penn Station. I was also really honored to receive my first official awards earlier this year for my makeup work, taking home Best Makeup for my work on Marat/Sade at The B.U.L.S.H.I.T. Awards (Baltimore United Local Stage and Hidden Independent Theatre Awards presented by local theatre critic The Bad Oracle), as well as a Stoney Award from Milburn Stone Theatre for my work on their original stage adaptation of Night of the Living Dead. Winning my first awards for shows that featured psychotic melted clown faces with rotted teeth, and bloody, disgusting zombies seemed really appropriate.
I would have to say that Night of the Living Dead was one of the most challenging and rewarding projects I’ve worked on so far. It was definitely the largest cast I’ve ever worked with, and the most amount of effects involved in one show. The cast had a lot of central characters that required transformations, and an even bigger horde of zombie extras. I designed dozens of different zombie “ghouls”, bruises from fight scenes, live action kill shots, severed body parts, edible blood fx and more. The director’s concept for the production was to have the ghouls looks as human as possible, because the more human they looked, the creepier the effect. It was a very different kind of zombie for me, because my zombies tend to be more exaggerated and decaying, but my experience with moulage injury fx and realistic wounds was very helpful for this. I assembled individual kits for the cast members with the makeup, blood and tools they needed and gave them an in person tutorial on zombification techniques, wounds, and explained the different bloods they would be using. I also made a YouTube video for them to study on their own time. The cast had such a fun time with the designs, they created some really unique, original details for each of their ghouls. Each zombie was totally different from the next and it was really amazing to see how they made the designs their own. Zombies might be cliché to some people, but they have been my favorite monster ever since I can remember. Designing a show like this was difficult at times, but it really was a dream come true would do it again in a heartbeat.
Every FX person I have ever spoken to has had a different blood recipe. Would you be willing to share yours?
Absolutely! I am an avid user of Ben Nye products and Ben Nye special fx blood. I highly recommend them for anyone interested in creating blood fx. I have at least six different types of blood in my arsenal, from mouth safe flavored edible bloods, to blood in powder form that activates with water, Ben Nye’s “Fresh Scab” gel based blood for cuts and scrapes, Kryolan brand eye safe blood eye-drops, washable blood for clothing and props and I’ve even developed a special recipe for mouth safe, black zombie mouth-rot temporary “stain”, that covers everything from your tongue to your teeth and gums!
But my favorite recipe that I’d love to share for quick, washable blood can easily be made at home. All you need is a gallon of clear laundry detergent, with no scents or added dyes, one or two bottles of red food coloring, and a little chocolate syrup to darken it up and make it less translucent. I like to add just a few small drops of green food coloring to my batches to help darken the color as well.
Favorite horror movie?
Even though I’m a diehard zombie lover, if I had to pick a favorite for the whole horror genre, which is really tough, I have to go with the original Friday the 13th. My parents were both big sci/fi and horror fans, and I was raised on that series. I love some good ol’ fashioned, slasher, gorey fun. I will always be Team Jason.
Favorite horror story?
Oh boy, that’s even harder. I’m a big reader, so I like everything from Poe, to Stephen King to the Walking Dead graphic novels. But if I’m being totally honest, I still read those children’s horror books, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” and they get me every time. Those illustrations are probably a big part of why I was such a twisted little kid. They’re really disturbing.
Are you working on any projects right now that you can talk about?
Yes! I am currently working on a show called “The Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe”. It’s an immersive theatre experience, so it’s not like your typical play. It’s almost more like a play that has been turned into a haunted house, in the sense that you are free to explore the space, follow whichever characters interest you the most and occasionally even interact personally with them. It’s a very unique kind of piece, and I am very excited to be supplying some of the spookier special fx involved in the show. We are hoping to extend the run in the near future, and you can find out more information at www.myedgarallanpoe.com
I am also currently a zombie year-round at an interactive game presented by Room Escape Adventures called “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie!”. We actually just got a bit of a shout-out on a recent episode of the CBS show “Big Bang Theory”! It’s a fun game, and I get to use my hauntertainer experience. We have locations all around the country and we’re rapidly expanding. I currently work at the Washington DC location in College Park, Maryland. Tickets at www.roomescapeadventures.com
When I’m not a blood-thirsty zombie, I also lead haunted pub walks in historic Fells Point for Baltimore Ghost Tours. It’s really a dream job for an actor. I get to dress up in character and lead folks around my favorite bars, telling them some very chilling, and a few funny ghost stories. Tours run from April, all the way through December, and we offer several different tours to choose from, from pub crawls to regular walking tours for the younger folks. Tickets at www.baltimoreghosttours.com
I am always available for theatrical productions, films, parties, beauty makeup, personal consultations, special events, musical performances, photoshoots, headshots, face painting, body painting, demonstrations, and more! I’m even an ordained minister, so if you’re planning a zombie themed wedding, I can do your makeup, and officiate the service!
They can feel free to check out my website, www.siobhanbeckett.com.
Or they can Like my official Facebook page for updates and links about current projects and gigs at www.facebook.com/siobhanbeckettmakeupfx.
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