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Class of 2013: Caleb Dirksen hopes to see his name in lights someday

Senior Caleb Dirksen poses for a photo in the Media Center at Worthington High School, where he spends a lot of time studying.(Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

This is the third in a four-part series featuring graduating seniors at Worthington High School.

WORTHINGTON -- Caleb Dirksen has distinguished himself in a lot of areas during his high school career, but despite his many accomplishments, he is resigned to being known as "the guy who wore the dress" in the Worthington High School musical.

"I get that a lot," Caleb replied when told he isn't recognized without his dress and wig.

And that's OK with him. In fact, he lists taking on the gender-crossing role of Edna Turnblad in this year's production of "Hairspray" as one of the highlights of his senior year.

Caleb not only accepted the role of Edna, but actively pursued it.

"It was the role I wanted to play," he said. "I'd seen it done at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, and it just looked like that guy was having a ball."

While other guys might have gotten a bit of grief about playing a woman's part onstage, Caleb suffered no such ribbing.

"Everybody just knew that part was perfect for me," he said.

Taking on such a major role in the musical consumed a lot of Caleb's time and culminated in an intense couple of weeks, but he relished the experience from beginning to end --except for one smelly aspect.

"I wasn't tired of Edna so much as I was tired of the fat suit," he related about the costume he had to don day after day. "The people who wore it before hadn't ever washed it, and it smelled horrible every time. The wigs were fun."

A self-proclaimed ham, it's evident Caleb feels quite at home on the stage --much more so than doing a one-on-one interview with a reporter.

"I don't usually show it just talking, but it does come out at points," he said about his outgoing personality.

Other stage experiences include the community musical productions "Beauty & the Beast" and "The Music Man" the last two years, and he currently has the role of team owner Welch in the Minnesota West production of "Damn Yankees."

And theater definitely plays a role in his future plans, even though he will head off in the fall to South Dakota State University in Brookings with hopes of getting into the pharmacy program.

"It's more of my backup plan," he said about becoming a pharmacist. "I would like to go into theater, but the pharmacy program doesn't like to share. So, I figure I don't need a degree to act."

By moving to Brookings, Caleb will actually return to his hometown. He and his mom, Stacie Dirksen, moved to Worthington when he was just 3 years old. His interest in music -- and hence his interest in musical theater -- showed itself at an early age. He's a triple-threat musician, playing violin in the orchestra, percussion with the band and singing tenor in the choir.

"Music's always been a part of my life," he said, adding after being pressed to pick a favorite, "I think I enjoy choir slightly more than the other two."

Most recently, Caleb was part of the choir group that took a cross-country journey to New York City via bus. Many of the students were plagued by a stomach flu, and Caleb wasn't spared.

"I caught the flu on the way home, at 12:30 a.m.," he shared. "I slept on the floor of the charter bus bathroom."

In keeping with his penchant for performing, Caleb's other main extracurricular activity has been speech.

"I joined my freshman year," he said. "My claim to fame there was that my first time out I got first place. For the rest of the season, I never saw finals again. I guess it was just dumb luck."

Caleb's speech specialty is humor.

"This year, I did a cutting from 'The Book of Mormon,'" a modern Broadway hit that he caught on its Twin Cities tour. "I did do well, a few first places, although I didn't make it to state. My sophomore year I made it to state.

"I enjoy speech because I like to see the other pieces performed and the reaction to my piece," he added. "I like to entertain people, really."

Since the beginning of the school year, Caleb has participated in Worthington High School's post-secondary education option, which allows students to earn college credits through Minnesota West Community and Technical College. He's now experienced college-level composition, introduction to theater and speech classes.

"I've noticed that I have a lot more time to do the work and study the materials," on the college level, he noted. "I'm afraid next year that won't be the case."

Academically, Caleb considers himself a "pretty good student," and his class preferences lean toward the sciences, while writing is his weakness.

"I can't write worth a darn," he admitted.

Caleb currently has one class at the college and four at the high school, and much of the time in between is spent studying in the high school media center. He's also on the WHS tennis team, and all his various involvements leave time for little else. He occasionally works on his grandpa's farm to earn some spending money, but is otherwise not employed.

When he does have some spare cash, Caleb is apt to spend it on his unusual hobby.

"I collect hats," he said. "Right now I have about 32."

His interest in headwear developed during his middle school years, when there would be an annual Hat Day.

"I would switch hats between classes, so I was always getting more hats," he said. "My most unique one is probably a Shriner's fez, which I found in an antique store in Iowa. Another one would be a World War II British helmet."

Caleb admits to some bittersweet feelings about seeing his time at WHS come to an end.

"There's the excitement of being done, but then there's also having to leave everything," he said.

After graduation, Caleb will leave everything he's known behind much sooner than his classmates. His mother, who works for Ferrara Pan Candy Co., has accepted a job transfer to Chicago, and he will move there with her for the summer. Caleb looks forward to checking out the Chicago theater scene before heading back to Brookings in the fall. He can even envision himself on the stage there -- after he finishes the pharmacy program, of course. He aspires more to an acting career in the theater rather than movies or television.

"My dream would be to be on the Broadway stage," he shared, "either New York City or Chicago. That's what I'd like to be doing in 10 years."

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.