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The Because Project: Don Wright

"I lead a creative life because of my mother."


Published July 1, 2013 at 4:00 a.m.

The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.

Don Wright is the founder of youth-theater company Very Merry Theatre.

Moms obviously play a critical role in all of our lives, but my mother, Nancy Means Wright, has probably been the most influential person in mine.

My mother is a writer; she's published 18 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. When my three siblings and I were growing up in the '50s and '60s, both she and my father were teachers at Proctor Academy, a prep school in Andover, N.H. There was a very old-school headmaster there who didn't think women should teach English, so my mother taught French and served as the drama director.

We lived at the school during the academic year but spent summers and holidays at our ramshackle house in Cornwall, Vt. My mother used to leave books at the ends of our beds — great, age-appropriate stories that were absolutely seminal — from The Hobbit to Johnny Tremain to The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. She'd check to see if we were done, and when we were, we would find another book at the end of the bed.

She directed three plays a year at the school. Whenever a scene called for kids, she would toss us onstage. She did the same with our pets. At Very Merry Theatre, the Vermont theater company I founded, we often gather the kids together and tell them stories. One of my favorite stories to tell is about the time our family cat peed in an actress' lap in the middle of a show, and how she handled it and the show went on. Of course, the kids just love that.

Mom would use our furniture, too. I always knew one of her plays was getting close when I came home from school and the couch was gone.

Growing up this way kindled my passion for storytelling, which is what fuels the work I do now.

My mother is also a really strong feminist. She went down to Washington to march against the Vietnam War and was very engaged in the civil rights movement. I grew up in an environment where it wasn't OK to accept the status quo. I had to think critically about the world. That mindset is very helpful when it comes to making art.

My mother didn't have an easy childhood herself. She was 10 years younger than her next youngest sibling. Her father died when she was 10, and her mom started working as a "house mom" at boarding schools and summer camps. They moved around the East Coast living a bit of a gypsy life until my mom was 19 and went to Vassar. I think that made her self-sufficient and adaptable.

My mom has an unflagging passion for writing. She's 84 now and has a new book coming out. She still gets up every morning and writes. She taught me that you can choose to lead a creative life and sustain yourself. She's inspiring.

The Vermont Children's Trust Foundation supports statewide prevention programs for children and families to help give all kids a fair chance at success.
Submit your stories for the Because Project! Email them to Submissions should be 300 to 600 words long and respond to the prompt "I am/decided to/learned to _______ because of ______." Kids VT will feature one of these stories in each issue.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.