Gina Gambony brings the world of shadow puppetry to life
By KIM HENRY
Meet Gina Gambony ― director, teacher, puppeteer, performer, writer and maker of all things extraordinary. This eclectic Wilmington artist cannot be pinned down by one defining label, a clear reflection of Gambony’s multi faceted artistic expression which is the driving force behind her love of experimental theatre, and the dreamy world of shadow puppetry.
Born in Libertyville, Illinois, Gambony’s childhood was not the archetypal American dream of cherry pie and lemonade stands. It was turbulent and challenging and as she was regularly on the move, the arts became a life line of creative escape and valuable expression. “I was always involved in some kind of project. A show or dance recital or band performance. I was happiest when I was immersed in the chaotic crunch time that comes hand in hand with that pre-show moment,” Gambony’s eyes glint with excitement just talking about it.
Branching out beyond performance, Gambony gradually began to explore visual art when she discovered puppets. She now uses wool roving and a combination of needle felting and wet felting to create quirky 3-D hand and rod puppets. One of her personal favorites is the insane narrator that she made for a Stageworks production of ‘Shadowy Tales for Unusual Minds,’ in 2010 that was performed at the Cameron Art Museum. His huge eyes, bulbous nose and wild hair effectively played with the lighting to bring this eccentric character expressively to life.
When Gambony discovered shadow puppets, her creative world expanded just that little bit further. Delving into this age old form gave birth to Gambony’s unique style and became her passion. “A shadow is the most simple of any image. A flat, non-existing, shifting image. It has no weight or color. It is primal. And yet it can have immense power to move people, create a surreal, dreamy atmosphere, make you laugh and cry. It is simplicity in motion and it touches me to the core,” Gambony’s dedication is palpable.
One of her most extensive shadow shows to date was ‘The Sandman and Other Wonders’ which was co-directed with her shadow mentor, Chris Neely in 2006. The two women met when Gambony was an eighth grade teacher at Williston Middle School. Neely shared her extensive experience of working with the iconic San Francisco based shadow company, ‘ShadowLight’. The brutally honest working relationship that these two women shared and clearly valued, led to an innovative show that fused 3-D and 2-D puppetry, live performance and masks, using a shadow screen that was 15 feet wide and 12 feet tall. It was exceptionally well received and was awarded the Best Use of Inspiration by Encore magazine, among other honors.
Taking this leap into the world of shadow puppetry further developed Gambony’s artistic skills and provided insights that she readily brings into her teaching. Gambony has worked within schools and community arts organizations, including Thalian, Cape Fear Shakespeare, Journey Productions and Wilmington Ballet for nearly twenty years. “I am a teacher and community organizer in my bones,” Gambony says with the conviction that would make any parent want her as their child's teacher. She is currently a guest artist with Theatre Now’s outreach team, and at Dreams, an after school arts center for children at risk.
“Creating shadow shows has taught me many things that I like to pass on to my students. First, practice drawing, stay with an image, edit it like writing until it’s what you want it to be. It is attainable if you want it badly enough. Too many kids, especially by middle school, try to draw a frog, it ends up looking like a bear, and then they say “I can’t do this,” and they don’t want to suffer failure so they stop and refuse to go on with it. I say to them ― mistakes are important. Rub it out, do it again, make it how you want it to be, accept your style.”
She speaks passionately about having art and drama programs within schools, believing that, “the arts are extremely important for young people, and I mean real, uninhibited, unrestricted art. I have been involved in integrating art into education for almost 20 years, because the arts will no doubt save some percentage of the population in their challenging journey through youth.”
With her infectious laugh and open smile, Gambony’s zest for life and all things out of the ordinary flows from her and into every area of her busy life with unabashed abundance. She seamlessly moves from making a shadow show film with special needs children at Laney High School, to co-directing Big Dawg’s next production, ‘Motherhood Outloud,’ to being the in-house manager at Kennan auditorium, to rounding off the day with the symphonic band at UNCW where she plays the flute. Mother of nineteen year old Oskar who is studying music in Asheville, Gambony is a clearly a creative tour de force.