Jim Gamble has one advantage in his line of work: His associates don't talk back.
He works with about 1,500 puppets in traveling shows and has even created videos using the art of puppetry.
"Sometimes I'm maintaining two personalities as I interact with the puppets, and that can make me feel kind of schizophrenic," he laughed.
Gamble will be presenting "The Wonderful World of Puppets," in which marionettes perform all sorts of "special tricks," tomorrow at Kennedy Theatre. The show marks his 30th anniversary of coming to Honolulu from his home base in Los Angeles to perform.
‘The Wonderful World of Puppets’
Featuring Jim Gamble and His Puppets
Where: Kennedy Theatre Mainstage, University of Hawaii at Manoa
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Admission: $10 adults; $9 seniors, military, UH faculty/staff; $7 children, non-UH students; $3 UHM students with valid Fall 2003 or Spring 2004 I.D.
The variety show features puppets that come apart and reassemble before viewers' eyes. "One can even dance like a real ballerina," said Gamble, whose aim is to get people to focus so much on the puppet characters that they forget he's there.
"I started working with puppets when I was about 10," he said. "My mom brought home a Woman's Day magazine and there was an article on how to build a puppet."
Gamble had built model airplanes, but puppets soon took over his life. "I felt such a passion for creating the characters." Due to the labor involved, he said, "I learned that it is not a pastime for kids."
THROUGH HIS HOBBY of creating puppets and staging shows, Gamble was able to pay his way through college, financing his engineer and management degrees. "After five years service as a pilot in the United States Air Force, I became a pilot for Continental Airlines until 1983, when I took early retirement to work puppetry full-time," he said. "I now have 19 puppeteers, designers, artists and staff helping to produce over a thousand performances annually."
As a pilot, he had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time visiting puppeteers around the world. Now, he combines his knowledge of puppetry and engineering with the performing arts to create innovative and entertaining programs.
Some of the puppetry programs are designed to foster music education while others are used to explore cultural enrichment. He and his staff have created programs based on classical music, such as "Peter and the Wolf," "Carnival of the Animals" and the opera version of "Hansel and Gretel," he said.
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Kalani Pasco, 7, rubs noses with Pinocchio during a performance. Pasco is one of several first graders from Mokulele Elementary School who attended the puppet show Tuesday.
Gamble has worked and studied with puppetry artists such as the late Dr. Mel Helstein, Jim Henson, Bil Baird, Burr Tillstrom and German puppeteer Albrecht Roser.
His marionettes have also been exhibited at the Corcoran Galley, Smithsonian, and in many university and traveling exhibits across the country. His exhibit on trick marionettes for the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta toured nationwide.
"One advantage is that I get to live and be with people in all different parts of the world," Gamble said. He's taken his puppets to Serbia, Italy, Israel, Iran, Hong Kong, South America, Japan, France and Russia, to name a few destinations.
He has also constructed puppets for Disneyland, Disneyworld, Disneyland Hotel, Santa's Workshop and other theme parks. And he has performed on television in Germany, England, Japan and Korea, as well as the United States.
"We extend the learning to our Web site, which allows students to do extra work. If you wish to e-mail Peter (of 'Peter and the Wolf'), for example, his e-mail address is Peter@Jimgamble.com. Peter will send a return e-mail telling you how the wolf likes living at the zoo, and also something about the cat," Gamble said. His site is at www.jimgamble.com.
Other programs include the "Myths of the Aztecs," which tells a story about pre-Hispanic Mexico, and "Tales of the Ashanti," which utilizes African storytelling techniques and life-sized puppets.
And Gamble is likely to continue to travel to Hawaii for many years to come, saying, "Just when I think I don't want to create another production, I get this great idea."