Daniel W. Erickson ’14 swivels his gaze to meet mine as I walk into Café Pamplona. “Who are you?" he asks with wide eyes, as I extend my hand.
Confused, I introduce myself as a writer for The Crimson. Didn’t we have an interview scheduled? Erickson cuts me off with a laugh. He leans forward, voice booming, “No, no. I know that. You fool!” A warm, toothy smile emerges from his beard. “Who are you? I want to know who I’m talking to. That’s why I asked you.”
Eventually, we begin to discuss who Erickson is. He spent his childhood in St. Cloud, Minnesota training to become a classical pianist (you may remember his performance in the Freshman Talent Show). Now a philosophy concentrator in Dunster House, he dedicates most of his time to theater. Erickson is first and foremost an actor and director, although he’s done almost everything from lighting design to working with professional directors to serving on the board of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club. This past September he wrote, directed, and starred in the well-received “Here Comes Everybody,” a one-man production in which Erickson spent an hour presenting his thoughts on James Joyce’s "Finnegans Wake."
“Over the last four years I’ve been trying to get better at taking what’s incredibly complex material, abstract material, and making it comprehensible.” He tugs at his wavy brown hair as he says this, making it stand on end. “I see the act of performing a role as very much analogous to interpreting a philosophical text. Just taking something that works in one medium and shifting it into another.”
Most people would have trouble navigating such mission statements without sounding pretentious, but when delivered in Erickson’s careful, earnest manner, it’s nearly impossible not to find yourself nodding along in agreement.
It helps that Erickson doesn’t take himself too seriously. I take advantage of a lull to make sure the conversation is being recorded, and he immediately riffs to fill the silence. “Is it working? Am I talking loud enough? Too loud?” He chuckles and draws out his words in a goofy voice, his volume increasing with each syllable. “TOO MUCH SOUND!?”
When Erickson talks, people listen. It’s a skill that he’s spent a lot of time cultivating. “You have to teach people how to pay attention to certain things” he explains. “If you’re not thinking about how you’re telling the story, then what are you doing? You’re going to give into your worst, most obvious impulses.”
Telling me about the time he read Descartes’s "Meditations on First Philosophy" at a scary story night hosted by the Harvard College Voice Actors’ Guild, Erickson grows excited and goes on a lengthy tangent explaining the French philosopher’s search for truth. “And he comes to realize that we can doubt everything! We can’t be sure of anything! And that’s a really horrifying thing if you’re in a specific mindset,” he says.
Erickson’s hand absentmindedly reaches into a pocket and pulls out an invisible text, which he cups in front of his face. “Other people were telling stories of ghosts and goblins and evil doll houses. And I read this little thing from my book…and people paid attention!” he says. At this point Erickson falls uncharacteristically silent. His eyes stare, unfocused, at something past my shoulder as a smile creeps onto his lips.
In that rare moment of calm I can’t help but wonder what new idea has seized control of him, and what form it will take when he decides to share it. “I want to make things,” he continues. “I don’t really care what medium I’m working in. I just want to create experiences for people. And I want to travel. I think that’s enough.”