Dan Kamin was inspired to become a mime by seeing a Charlie Chaplin film, a happenstance that blossomed into a career. To celebrate this centennial of the Tramp character made famous by Chaplin, former Pittsburgher Kamin is performing the program "Funny Bones: The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin" Friday and Sunday at the Strand Theater in Zelienople.
"I've done the program all over the world, but never in Pittsburgh," the performer said. "It's a thrill to bring it back home on the 100th anniversary of the Tramp's debut in February 1914."
Mr. Kamin, who tinkered with magic as a teen and studied industrial design at Carnegie Mellon University, became enthralled with the movement illusions practiced by Jewel Walker and "became the sorcerer's apprentice" to the master mime. He then went Hollywood in the 1990s as a man who knew all the right moves. For example, in the "Funny Bones" program, "I manage to work in the Chaplin roll dance that I taught Downey for 'Chaplin' and Johnny Depp for 'Benny and Joon,' " Mr. Kamin said.
That's Robert Downey Jr., who earned an Oscar nomination as star of the 1992 Chaplin biopic. Mr. Kamin also created Martian movement for Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!" and played the wooden Indian come to life in "Creepshow 2," but it was his training of Mr. Downey that put him on the entertainment world's radar. (The Strand is screening "Chaplin" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.)
"Because of Charlie Chaplin I've worked in Hollywood and performed with symphonies all over the world. In this program I return the favor by taking the audience on a guided tour of Chaplin's enchanted art," he said.
The program developed after Mr. Downey's buzz-worthy performance shined a spotlight on Mr. Kamin's expertise. He was invited for speaking engagements that at first didn't go according to plan.
"I found that audiences had little interest in hearing me talk. ... Instead, they selfishly wanted to have a good time. So I developed a sneaky way of drawing them into Chaplin's art by doing some mime and magic, having some fun audience participation, and even staging a Hershey bar giveaway."
The centerpiece of the two-hour family-friendly program is a screening of "The Pawnshop," a 1916 Chaplin short restored by Mr. Kamin and with a new score by local early jazz pianist Tom Roberts. The show does not include Mr. Kamin imitating Chaplin because you can see the original on film, and "he does himself better than anyone else."
"There's a famous scene in the film in which Charlie elaborately dissects an alarm clock," the performer added. "After the film, the audience joins me in dissecting 'The Pawnshop' the way he dissects that clock."
-- Sharon Eberson, Post-Gazette