Take a Gamble on puppets

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For Jim Gamble, Steamboat Springs is just another puddle jump after Yugoslavia and Iran on his way to Hawaii, Croatia and Italy.

Gamble takes his marionettes, rod puppets and life-size Japanese Bunraku puppets around the world presenting traditional stories using an increasingly cutting-edge art form. Puppet popularity is growing nationally and internationally as shown by puppet festivals springing up everywhere from Pakistan to Japan.

The audience for puppets used to be children. Now, those present are open-minded, curious, sophisticated, avant-garde adults.

It's a combination of all the arts -- theater, sculpture, painting -- and that's why Gamble got interested and stayed interested.

Gamble lives in Southern California, where he operates a 19-person company. The group performed 1200 shows in 2003, Gamble said. He was in Europe five times this year, where he performed a marionette version of "The Nutcracker" in Yugoslavia. He was invited to Iran to perform in a September comedy festival.

Gamble started with puppetry when he picked up a Woman's Day article on puppet making as a 10-year-old.

It was a spare-time hobby in the years he spent earning a master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering, for his five years as a U.S. Air Force pilot and for the 15 years he spent as a commercial pilot for Continental Airlines.

When Continental declared bankruptcy in 1983, Gamble opted for an early retirement and began making and performing with puppets full time.

He has performed in Moscow, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Japan, and this is his third time in Steamboat.

Monday's performance of "The Nutcracker" will retell the ballet story with puppets instead of dancers.

Gamble, who is fluent in Japanese from his 10 tours there and who is currently learning Italian, incorporates different languages into the show.

When the puppets enter the Magical Kingdom of Sweets, the Russian, Spanish and Turkish puppets all speak their native languages.

Even though Gamble is in full view of the audience during the show, he said the audience members focus so much on the puppets that they forget he is there.

"The secret is to manipulate the puppet so that it looks like a real person," he said. "I use my engineering knowledge in the making of these marionettes. I think that's one of the reasons I get invited all over the world to do this."

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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