Kristin Abel Puppeteers 3D-Printing Project for Upcoming Theater Performance — Faculty Highlight

By Dani Moritz-Long

The idea of creating something from nothing: It’s both a perplexing and enticing concept, which has simultaneously boggled and enlightened the minds of artists, philosophers and scientists alike. It’s also a concept that is featured prominently in Valencia’s upcoming April production, “CREATION – Births of Mythology,” in more ways than you might expect.

For one, the theatrical piece, which was written and directed by Valencia’s own Theater Professor and Artistic Director John DiDonna, explores creation and origin myths. Less obviously, it explores creation from a technical and artistic perspective as the production has served as a catalyst for utilizing new technology — Valencia’s 3D printers — to create some of the play’s props.

A first in Valencia’s theatrical history and the brainchild of Theater Technology Professor Kristin Abel, the idea was born from a Learning Day event. During the event, Irma Berner, professor, computer assisted drafting/design, demonstrated the abilities of a 3D printer, such as the efficient printing of a prosthetic hand. This sparked Kristin’s imagination.

Initially, Kristin explained, she thought of the technology’s application in printing the small-scale models the Theater program produces during the planning phase of each production. Later, through brainstorming with colleagues, Kristin saw the potential for full-scale props, like a detailed drinking goblet or medieval sword hilt.

When she learned of John’s newest play — “CREATION” — and discovered that it would feature puppetry, the idea came full-circle. With the help of colleagues like Building Construction Technology Professor Andy Ray, Kristin’s idea of incorporating 3D printing into prop design became reality.

While Kristin originally envisioned entirely 3D-printed puppets for the play, she and her students are now focused on incorporating 3D-printed elements, like eyes and ears, onto the puppets.

Kristin with student Megan Bentley and one of the puppets from “CREATION.”

This, in turn, has served as an enlightening learning opportunity for Kristin and her students as they merge art and technology.

“The art of 3D printing is a brand-new skill to me, and what excites me the most is what artistic challenges we can meet using the technology,” she said. “A project like this, where I’m not the expert but instead learning right along with the students, gives students a chance to teach the teacher as well as to learn a new skill while they polish their problem solving skills.”

Now, under the guidance of Kristin and Adjunct Theater Professor Rebekah Lane, who is assisting with the build and design of the puppets, the students are excitedly working through the various phases of the innovative puppetry development, from initial design to computer-modeling the puppet parts, printing the parts and piecing everything together as seamlessly as possible. (After all, one creation myth the play doesn’t feature is Frankenstein.)

“Ideally, if we do this right, the audience won’t be able to tell which puppets have 3D-printed parts,” Kristin explained.

If you’re curious to see if you can spot the puppets with 3D-printed elements, Kristin encourages you to “come see the show!”

For more information about “CREATION – Births of Mythology,” including dates, times and cost, click here.

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