Street performer talks serious business at Colorado BBQ Challenge
If Adorkable Derek could dispel one common misconception about street performers, it would be to change the way many Americans see his chosen profession.
“It’s hard to articulate,” he said answering a question about the hardest part of his job, “but I think the real question is why is there a lack of respect in America for street theater?
“That’s the main point, is there’s a lack of respect for street theater in America because most people seem to think that street theater is a bum that plays a guitar, a homeless guy that’s just asking for money,” he continued. “When you go to Europe and the rest of the world, you see how amazing street theater can be. It’s theater — it just happens to be in the street.”
Performing as “Adorkable Derek” this weekend during the 24th annual Frisco BBQ Challenge, McAlister was part mime, part acrobat and all comedy. He’s been honing his craft for years, he said, and most everyone who stopped to watch ate it up.
For the bit, McAlister dressed like a nerd, clothing he would later strip off to reveal a lime green sleeveless jumpsuit, and he directed audience members throughout the performance with no words, just a whistle and hand gestures.
For his most daring stunts, McAlister picked four stout men from the crowd to secure just as many ropes fixed to the top of an 18-foot pole. With the pole upright, McAlister then climbed up and down it as he performed tricks to woo a young female — this time Maya McDaniel of Columbus, Ohio — also pulled from the audience.
“I’m honestly not a big fan of these shows, but this one was awesome,” McDaniel said after the show, still red in the face from laughing so hard and holding a fake rose given to her by McAlister as his last act of devotion.
With his first words to the audience — McAlister finally took the microphone with the show now over — he asked everyone who enjoyed it to pay what they thought it was worth.
“It’s not a bum begging for money,” McAlister expalined still answering the aformentioned question about the hardest part of his job. “I mean I’m a professional, like I graduated from university, I’ve traveled the world, (and) I speak five languages. I chose this job because I get to be creative, make my own living and pay my own taxes, and I do.”
McAlister’s journey to becoming a street performer started early. At age 6, he was quoting famous comedians, not really understanding the adult-natured humor but knowing they would get laughs.
Always somewhat of a clown, McAlister also picked a highly complementary skill to bolster his street-performing tool bag at about that same time.
“The short of the story is, I learned to juggle when I was a kid, like 7 years old,” he said. “It was really cool actually. I had these guys come to my elementary school, and instead of P.E., they taught me to juggle.”
A product of public schools, McAlister did well in math, science and foreign language, all the time still focused on making people laugh. A high-school athlete as well, he directed his attention to theater his last semester and found his calling.
In college, McAlister studied the arts, but knew he didn’t want to be a part of classical theater. He also remembers seeing a fire juggler around that time, and it’s a vision that remains with him, now 38 years old, today.
At a different college — McAlister attended two — he made good friends with another juggler. They lived together and trained together, and working with one another so often, their juggling skills “went through the roof.”
At 21, McAlister traveled to Europe, where he met another street performer by the name of Jean-Michel Parr. It was another friendship from which McAlister learned much, and he still thinks of Parr as having put together one of the best street shows ever seen.
Returning home to Texas and graduating shortly thereafter in 2001 from the University of Texas, McAlister went to work. He started performing abroad as part of a duo, and soon went out solo, having primarily done his shows on the streets of Europe and the U.S., but also the continents of Asia and Australia.
To hone his skills, McAlister has attended dozens of clown workshops, circus training programs and juggling conventions over the years.
Now living in Los Angeles, McAlister thinks someone needs about seven years of honing their skills minimum before they can truly do a good street show. For his performances, he’s put together a number of variations, often under the stage name Derek Derek, exploring new characters and styles, including Adorkable Derek, who in addition to staying silent, doesn’t do any juggling.
“I’m good with money, and street theater does fine,” McAlister said of his job, later adding that he’s “just grateful for all the people that do maintain that open mind,” because the more audiences that do, the better the shows will be.
“If you give us a chance to be creative,” he said, “there’s no limit to what street performers can do.”
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