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Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts: Buttoned up street performer's 'strip tease'

Texas native Derek McAlister combines wordless comedy and acrobatic feats in a Chinese pole routine that must be seen to be believed.
BY BRANDY MCDONNELL Modified: April 25, 2013 at 10:06 pm •  Published: April 26, 2013

While the weather has varied wildly, McAlister, 34, said the crowds at his first Festival of the Arts have been consistently congenial.

“They're totally getting into it. Like most audiences, they tend to think I'm a bit weird to begin with, but then they warm up to me after a little while,” he said.

Pulling off potentially death-defying stunts that you have to see to believe two stories above the concrete does tend to win over a crowd, after all.

The Boulder, Colo., resident has been a street performer for 11 years, although he's not sure anyone really decides to embark on such a career.

“I went to Europe and I met a guy that street performs. And he was having an awesome life, making a lot of money, and I was a juggler. And I was like ‘I'll try that after I graduate.'” Surprising performances

McAlister added the Chinese pole to his repertoire four or five years ago. He has been rock climbing since he was 16, so he had the necessary strength to adapt to the pole fairly quickly. But it took him two years to develop the routine around his wordless character Harold, who looks more like a particularly dorky incarnation of Dr. Who than an athletic acrobat capable of scaling a 20-foot pole in less than a minute.

While he enjoys surprising the audience, McAlister prefers it when it surprises him.

“Personally, I think the first part of the show 'cause anything can happen,” he said. “Sometimes you just get unbelievable magic from the kid volunteers that show up.”

He definitely made a memory for Hyde, who moved to Oklahoma City about a year and a half ago. She decided to join friends at the festival Thursday before heading to work at Earl's Rib Palace in Bricktown.

“He was really funny with the pole, but then he actually started climbing it and I was quite impressed,” she said. “I will definitely come here every year now.”


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