mary poppinsIn college, not convinced any of my interests really had long-term professional feasibility, I went the double-major route; if theatre wouldn’t pay the bills, maybe English would? Or a Spanish minor? While that thinking panned out–turns out, you can make a living as a writer/editor!–and I’ve only occasionally had paid work from my theatre degree (note: if anyone needs a director for their next Shakespearean production or comedy improv show, I still do some community theatre), the life lessons I gained as a theatre major certainly shaped a good deal of my thinking. Working in the theatre, you learn the importance of far-reaching skills, from painting a flat to working with a team on a tight deadline to understanding the dynamics that emerge when putting two dozen “creative types” in an enclosed space. Just like I learned over and over again through my undergrad days, the lessons of the theatre transcend into real life–just like parts of real life drop in to the theatrical world, such as when high-tech finds its place onstage, as seen recently in New England.boys and girls club

The Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley provides youths in New Hampshire a place to grow together. Theatre has been proven to be an incredible avenue for building important skills including teamwork, as well as simply the opportunity for participants to create magic onstage. The Amato Center for the Performing Arts is associated with the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, and recently put on a production of Mary Poppins.

A critical part of any production lies in its props, and maker Ben April rose to a challenge not unique to this staging of Mary Poppins: creating a prop that needs to break apart, but still be used night after night. In Mary Poppins, father George Banks breaks an urn in the family’s house.

“The simple version is in the show the urn is an heirloom in the Banks household. At a cathartic moment near the end it gets broken and we learn that as a child George had hidden something special inside,” April told me via email. “When designing the prop sugar glass was considered an option, but ends up being really messy and dangerous shattering all over the place. We decided to give 3d Printing a try. All accounts are that it worked out great!”

urn featBen April’s 3D printed breakaway urn is designed in several pieces, and he noted that “this is a LONG” project, which is “made of 4 shard types, 8 copies of each. That’s 32 shards at 1-2 hours per shard.”

urn designBefore getting to the printer, though, the breakaway urn prop had to be designed, for which April turned to SketchUp. As he laid it out to me, the process was completed in seven steps, from drawing the profile to rendering in GCode for printing. April used “SketchUp for drawing output to STL,” then turned to Repetier and Slic3r to convert into GCode.

“This was my first time using Repetier-server,” he told me, “which was a win, you can queue up everything you need to print and just tend to the printer when it asks it.”

Once it was time to print, April used a 15% infill, and found he “needed to add a heatsink to my extruder motor.” Following the print job using his Printrbot Simple 1405, to which he had added the XL kit, the PLA piece was assembled and post-processed, with painting by S. April.

“This is the first show we’ve done using the 3d Printer and it’s a game changer,” April told me. “There were probably 100 little props that we just printed because the output was durable, easy to paint and flexible.”

When I talked to April, halfway through the run, it certainly sounded like a successful project, as he reported that the urn had “survived 3 Tech rehearsals, 3 performances, a pick-up rehearsal It’s got 3 runs left. No signs of any structural problems.”

Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the Mary Poppins Props forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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