Barry Erickson wants his son Caleb, who died way too young, to be remembered. Caleb Erickson, a 20-year-old Marine who was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2014, was a graduate of Waseca High School, and the school’s theater department has been paying tribute to Caleb in a special and very personal way.
The one-act play “Booby Trap,” which Waseca students have been performing this winter, is a work of fiction in which a soldier accidentally sits on a landmine and cannot move.
The play “kind of shows him reliving his past, and his future, which he hasn’t seen yet. And him having to cope with maybe giving his own life up,” said Waseca senior Garrett Natysin, who plays the soldier in the school production.
“Booby Trap” also was performed this spring by Springfield and Jordan high schools in Minnesota, and has been performed by hundreds of other schools around the country since 2001. It was written by Ed Monk, a longtime high school theater teacher and playwright in Virginia.
After rehearsals had begun, Waseca theater director Karen Pfarr Anderson had an idea. One of her friends is Rue Erickson, Caleb’s older sister. Karen contacted Rue with an idea: “We should do this for Caleb. I talked to Rue first and said I didn’t want to do it without their blessing. We talked about raising money and we thought we might get a couple hundred bucks because not many people come to the play.”
What happened was amazing. People heard about the play and the efforts to raise money, and they came to see the play in droves. There is normally no fee for one-act plays at school, but donations were accepted and the dollar figure has reached nearly $2,000.
“Besides Caleb being a humble guy, we are not, as a family, going to let his memory disappear,” said his father after the play was performed at Lakeville South in the Class 2A Section 1 finals. “We may be a little arrogant about that once in a while, but that kid deserves to be remembered. When I heard about this play and that they were doing it in honor of Caleb and his memory, and to raise a few bucks to help out other Marines, it just wound me up completely.”
Natysin and Allison Dufault, who portrays the soldier’s wife in “Booby Trap,” are Waseca seniors who were in junior high when Caleb was killed. (Caleb is pictured.)
“We have received so much support from our community,” Allison said. “It’s been incredible to be able to do something for people who give so much to us. And it’s really opened our eyes to what being in the military means.”
The donations have gone to the Caleb Erickson Memorial Fund, which is dedicated to helping veterans in need. Veterans from Waseca and beyond have seen the play, and the high school students are aware of the impact they have had on the wider community.
“We’re usually doing comedies and slapstick,” Allison said. “So it’s really amazing to be able to do something that has a lot of substance and means a lot to people. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Most of the students involved in the play didn’t know Caleb personally and some were not fully aware of the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families.
“This is a great opportunity for them to learn about this hometown hero,” Pfarr Anderson said. “To not only understand the sacrifice that he gave, but that all military men and women give. Whether they come home or not, that’s the price they put on the line.”
When Barry Erickson attended rehearsal and saw the performance for the first time, it was emotional for everybody. He spoke to the students, telling them, “I see Caleb in each one of your faces.”
“That touched my heart,” Pfarr Anderson said, “it touched the kids’ hearts, and that made them want to do the best they possibly could. They would do that anyway, but it added something that you almost can’t describe. It added a different element.”
One-act play is an MSHSL activity, and this year’s season will culminate with the state festival Thursday and Friday at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Waseca did not advance to state, but the competitive side of the activity was almost an afterthought to them.
“When we started talking about competing, they were like, ‘I haven’t thought about that,’ ” Pfarr Anderson said. “They were so focused on ‘This is for Caleb. This is for his family.’ Because this story is not just about the man, the soldier, it’s about the people they leave behind. That really meant a lot to the kids.”
Garrett and other actors wear military uniforms on stage, with the uniforms and patches donated by Waseca area veterans. Among the service members who have seen the play is the soldier who delivered Caleb’s dog tags to his family. (Pictured are the cast and crew with Caleb's family.)
Before the play was performed in Waseca, Caleb’s dad spoke to the audience.
“I explained the anger I felt that he is not with us anymore and he deserves to be,” Barry said. “He deserved to see this play. He deserved to have babies. It wasn’t meant to be. He was not scared of dying. He was a Marine and that’s the Marine spirit.
“These kids do this with all their heart. You can tell they’re determined to do a good job, whether they knew him or not.”
Pfarr Anderson said, “While we are saddened that this show is ending, we know that what we've done with it will last. I know and every one of my cast and crew members know that we accomplished infinitely more than we ever dreamed with this show. We put together a wonderful show that was powerful, purposeful, and performed with attention to detail and reality.
“We made new friends in the Erickson family and the contingent of veterans and supporters that came to see us and our show. Most importantly, we learned about, remembered, and honored a wonderful young man, Caleb Erickson, and raised almost $2,000 for his memorial fund. That gift and the lessons about bravery and service these kids learned will go on to do far more than winning a trophy.”For more information and to donate, go to https://www.calebericksonmemorial.com
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn