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One of the most amazing developments in recent(ish) technology has been 3D Printing. More specifically, FDM (fused deposition modeling) printing – it’s advancement as well as affordability. 

A quick primer on how it works – some kind of filament, usually plastic (PLA, ABS, PETG, etc.) is fed into a hot end nozzle where it melts and is deposited on a build plate. The hot end is connected to three axis motors (X, Y, Z) that move the hot end to positions defined by code generated by a “slicer” program that takes a 3D file and converts it into positions and defines a host of other parameters for the 3D printer to follow.

What’s the translation to theatrical applications? Imagine being able to create almost any prop, scenic element, or costume. Or to fix any number of problems – a broken light fixture, a cable hanger, a doorstop. All it takes is an upfront investment, small consumable costs, and, currently, a fair amount of time depending on the project. 

At Reno Little Theater we have two 3D printers – a QidiTech X-Max and a Creality CR10S. The X-Max was our first with an initial cost of $1300. That’s A LOT for a small theatre company but I had an idea it was going to be worth it. The CR10S we bought refurbished for $330. Still a fair amount but I was looking to have another machine that could crank things out maybe a little faster, maybe a little bigger. You can get printers cheaper and also a lot more expensive. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in the way we use these two printers is the CR10S takes a lot more hand-holding to get a great print. The learning curve on the X-Max was fairly small, but the CR10S screams for tinkering. The trade-off, as in most cases, time versus money. 

So what have we made with our 3D printers in the first season? Both a small and large 3D 85th Season logo, a scale model of the theater, custom cable hangers, flooring spacers, an oversized syringe, the wings of a giant caduceus, period scenic onlay details, twelve period-plague masks, and a few other things. Objects larger than the build volume need to be glued or fuzed together and almost everything needs at least a little finishing.

Could we have made these with more traditional methods? Yes. But to get the quality, look, and consistency that 3D printing can bring would have cost much, much more. And once I’ve designed something or found the design for something, I can usually just send it to the printer and walk away to accomplish some other task we can’t 3D print… yet.

About the author:

Chad Sweet worked professionally as an actor, director, and designer in theaters across the country and in Mexico for a decade before moving to Reno in 2004. After taking a hiatus to start a business and paint full time, he returned to theater in 2010 first acting then making the leap to Producing Artistic Director of Good Luck Macbeth for three years until landing at RLT. Some highlights of his career include FOLLIES at Paper Mill Playhouse (1998) working with Stephen Sondheim, Ann Miller, Jerry Mitchell, Donna McKechnie, and Tony Roberts among others; touring the U.S. with educational theater shows for over two years; and spending many beautiful summers at Cortland Repertory Theatre, The New London Barn Playhouse, and The New Harmony Playhouse. He currently serves on the Marketing Committee for the Reno Arts and Culture Commission.

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