Puppeteer brings 'Peter and the Wolf' to Steamboat

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— Jim Gamble and his company, Jim Gamble Puppet Productions, perform their unique puppet shows around the country and around the world.

Israel, Russia, Yugoslavia, Serbia, France, Belarus, Bulgaria and Japan are just a few countries where Gamble has performed.

"We were the first Americans invited to perform in Iran in 20 years," Gamble said from his Southern California home.

That was in 1996 for the 7th International Iranian Festival.

In all, Gamble Puppet Productions has performed in more than 35 countries and countless places in the United States. It all averages out to be about 1,500 shows a year, making it the largest puppeteer company in the United States.

"It's exciting. Sometimes it gets a little too exciting," he said.

Over the holidays, Gamble and his company will perform about 200 shows, making this a busy time of years.

It's not a bad business for a retired pilot who began as a puppeteer only by hobby.

Gamble spent 18 years as a commercial pilot and before that was a pilot in the Air Force. During that time, he was always doing puppet shows on the side. In the early '80s, Gamble realized his puppetry was growing and becoming more and more successful. He left the pilot business and expanded his company. Today he has 20 people working under him and 40 years of experience in the business.

"It's a lot of work. We carve all the puppets," he said.

Puppetry involves mastering many different art forms. Woodworking, sculpting, painting and creating the stage are all involved.

One of Gamble's unique shows will be performed at 4 p.m. today as Gamble presents Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort Grand Ballroom.

The production features a wide variety of puppet characters portraying people, animals and animated instruments. In this interpretation, Prokofiev himself, as a puppet, is the narrator with a clever commentary telling how a composer creates a musical story, fulfilling the composer's original goal of acquainting a young audience with the sights and sounds of instruments from the orchestra.

"The audience learns about the composer, the music and the instrumentation," Gamble said. "There are a lot of cute little jokes that play on words throughout the show."

Gamble's children's shows are usually education-based, with the goal of introducing the young audience to music and instrumentation.

Most of Gamble's shows are with marionettes (string puppets), but "Peter and the Wolf" is with rod puppets. There are 35 to 40 puppets in the show, all performed by Gamble.

"I think the audience will really enjoy it," he said.

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