All a dream 

Legends close up shop, but Simpich son carries on

click to enlarge This ain't "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," kids.
  • This ain't "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," kids.

After 54 years in business, Bob and Jan Simpich plan to retire at year's end, sealing the doors on Simpich Character Dolls in Old Colorado City for good. But one of the couple's sons plans to continue the family's legacy, albeit a bit differently.

"The store is so much theirs; my brother [Ragan] and I have pursued our own interests," says David Simpich. "[The craft] would become diluted if sold. Most collectibles are mass-produced; "handmade' in America is a very expensive thing."

David Simpich currently heads his own touring company, the David Simpich Marionettes. Having grown up around his parent's crafts, he desired to pursue theater in his youth.

Not until he stumbled upon a marionette in a Seattle storefront window did he fully envision a sculpted figure as an actor. After teaching himself to craft marionettes and to design shows, Simpich returned to the Springs and launched a theater as an expansion of his parent's doll business.

Now in his 22nd year in theatre, Simpich is hosting a revival of his most requested performance, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

The tale depicts a vivid dream of a burdened man's trip from the City of Destruction to the Celestial Gate a religiously allegorical narrative packed with thematic struggles. Bunyan wrote the text while imprisoned for 12 years during the 17th-century English persecution of Puritans. The book later became popular with America's founding fathers and made its way into the canon of American literature.

"I read it in one sitting," Simpich says. "Something struck me as being well-suited for marionettes, but I decided to costume it more with a medieval flavor. I kept the classic, timeless, fantasy-quest aspect and simplified the writing style."

Simpich describes the story's bigger-than-life characters and surreal landscapes, such as Giant Despair and the River of Death, as hurdles and demons along the ultimate road trip's path.

"I see myself as a pilgrim, as Bunyan describes the role," Simpich says. "I bring my passion into the protagonist I appreciate that his weakness is so central to the story. I identify with Bunyan out of sympathy and admiration."

From the day he read the book in 1997 to the day he completed the last of nearly 30 hand-carved actors, The Pilgrim's Progress took Simpich roughly a year to develop.

As he prefers to do, he created each of his characters before adapting and scripting the play. Much like a Hollywood casting agent, he matches the right face with the right role, and even can be inspired by the faces to formulate the texts.

"Years ago I tried to write Tom Sawyer's script before completing the puppets," says Simpich. "I found it difficult without the characters in front of me."

As the progress of one family of talented pilgrims closes the metaphoric Celestial Gate behind themselves, another pilgrim family continues on its own theatric journey. The Simpich clan at-large isn't quite finished leaving its mark.


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