Greensboro, N.C. — Derek McAlister performs 18 feet above the ground, his body wrapped like a snake around a pole no more than 2 inches wide.
Four guys picked from the audience in the street hold the pole with guide wires and act as anchors. He slides down the pole with a rose clenched between his teeth, arms out like airplane wings.
The crowd gasps. At the bottom, he unfurls himself from the pole and presents the rose to a woman he’s plucked from the crowd.
The end of a 40-minute show, played out in the street, by a costumed character McAlister calls Adorable Derek.
McAlister is a street performer, and he does what he calls the most honest form of theater in the world.
“I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and I can tell in a breath if I have them or not have them,’’ he says. “Then, I simply chug forward and find the right line to make them laugh. I can tell the fake laughs and the shock laughs. I shoot for the belly laughs. That is the true laugh and, when that happens, I know I’ve got them. At that point, they are putty in your hands.”
See McAlister at The National Folk Fest in Greensboro Sept. 11-13.