Christmas on a string

Gamble says puppet show like a three-way conversation

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What: "'Twas the Night Bear-Fore Christmas" with puppeteer Jim Gamble When: 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday Where: Sheraton Steamboat Resort Hotel Grand Ballroom Tickets: $1 for children and $10 for adults; available at All That Jazz or at the Strings in the Mountains office Call: 879-5056, ext. 100

For Jim Gamble, a puppet show is a three-way conversation. He learned early on that for a show to keep people -- children and adults -- interested, the puppeteer needs to have a passion for his audience, not just for his puppets.

"I customize my shows to the audience," he said. Although he has been performing "'Twas the Night Bear-Fore Christmas" for 20 years, every show is different.

In rhyme and song, the show retells the famous poem, substituting bear marionettes as the characters.

Children and their teddy bears are invited to a party with cookies and drinks after the show.

Puppet popularity is growing nationally and internationally, as shown by puppet festivals held everywhere from Pakistan to Japan.

Puppetry is combination of all the arts -- theater, sculpture, painting -- and that's why Gamble got interested and stayed interested. His passion for the art has earned him an international reputation.

In just the past year, Gamble has performed in Siberia, Guatemala, Bolivia and Croatia.

This will be Gamble's third time on stage in Steamboat.

For children, the show is entertaining, but for adults, the intricacies of the puppets -- their structure and manipulation -- holds equal fascination.

Each puppet takes between 75 and 100 hours to create.

"You can't buy these marionettes," he said. The faces are designed by Gamble and handmade in his studio. Clay is sculpted to make a plaster mold, which then is filled with the neoprene that eventually makes the face of a marionette.

The neoprene then is put on a wood form.

Although Gamble is best known for his marionettes, his stable of creations includes rod puppets, shadow puppets and life-size Japanese Bunraku puppets.

Gamble holds regular master classes on puppet making, where people around the world pay $1,500 to spend five days with him.

Gamble has been interested in puppeteering since his was 10 years old, but he chose the life of a pilot instead. He spent five years in the U.S. Air Force and another 15 years as a commercial pilot for Continental Airlines. When Continental declared bankruptcy in 1983, Gamble opted for early retirement, started making puppets and never looked back.

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