The Department of Theatre will mount the Stephen Sondheim musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” featuring a robust group of talented student actors, as well as a set, props, wigs, and costumes designed by students in the Performing Arts Design Program (PADP). This large-scale musical requires planning, preparation, and, according to Professor Michael Horejsi, a PADP instructor, a healthy dose of optimism.
As part of its eclectic humor, the play includes a character, portrayed by Olivia Custodio, who has a Roman-style bust made in her likeness to give as a gift to her mother. When theatrical hijinks ensue, her husband drops the bust and the nose breaks off. This comedic situation can be difficult to create on stage with props, as it needs to break during each performance and be “fixed” with a replacement nose.
Faculty members Horejsi and Kyle Becker considered how to best create this moment on stage and decided to experiment—leading them to T.J. Ferrill in the Marriott Library who manages 3D printing technology at the University.
This is not the Department of Theatre’s first foray into 3D printing, although the technology has received incredible media attention in the last couple years. Starting in 2011, the Department received a grant to purchase a small 3D printer to construct 3D set models and replicas. Constructing the bust required some additional support, since it was the largest scale item the Department had attempted to 3D print.
Using facial recognition technology, Custodio wore the wig and headpiece for her character and was simply scanned by an iPad Mini camera, and the dot configuration for the bust was generated. “It was once a complex process, and now just a simple scan with an iPad,” Horejsi explained.
Following the scan, Professor Horejsi manipulated the dot matrix with software to finalize a file for printing. This process allows for enormous creativity in choosing a replacement nose that will have audiences laughing and having this prop as a critical piece of the humor.
With a complete file, the bust will print at the Marriott Library 3D printing lab in several stages and pieces over 3-4 days of print time. Made with what Professor Becker calls “lego plastic,” the bust is surprisingly durable. “Although this is still emerging technology, the material is versatile,” Becker said.
Professor Horejsi will oversee the finishing work of the busts, which require painting to look like a Roman sculpture and not like it’s hot off the 3D printing presses. The final busts are composed of eight pieces, which connect together to form the entire bust.
Ferrill, who oversees the Knowledge Commons at the Marriott Library and its 3D printing lab said 3D printing is in high demand campus-wide. “Creating the environment for students to create their projects. Students create the pieces, we provide the context where it can happen,” he said.
The merging of technology and the performing arts is an exciting enterprise and Horejsi said he can see this being used in multiple ways for the Department of Theatre, from costumes, sets, and, of course, props. To see the 3D bust, as well as a fantastic performance of a well-loved play, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” opens for a special preview and fundraising night on April 2, with a regular run (FREE with ArtsPass to U students with a valid U Card) through April 19.
It’s no wonder the PADP program was just ranked 4th in the nation!