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My Inspirational Teacher: Scott Wright

The Artistic Director of Erth on the childhood mentors who unleashed his creativity

Genvin In

We all have that one teacher who saw our potential, who pushed us that little bit harder to be all that we could be. My Inspirational Teacher is a Sydney Opera House series where we ask artists and educators about the people who untapped their potential. Whether a teacher, tutor, coach, Auntie or Uncle, these are the stories of the ones who made us care... while caring about us.

Most of us are lucky enough to have one inspirational teacher. For Scott Wright, Artistic Director of Erth, there was a village. We spoke to Scott about the teachers who gave him space to be himself, and how this continues to impact his work with Erth, ahead of the world premiere of their powerful new work ARC this year.

When Scott Wright recounts stories of his childhood at Wendouree Primary School in Ballarat in the seventies, the picture he paints is of a young boy brimming with a freewheeling, unbridled enthusiasm. 

From climbing buildings “to see how far he could jump,” to turning up to school every day for two years dressed as Dr Who (which he loved deeply for its “infinite potential”) - Scott, in his own words, was known largely as “the hyperactive child”.

“I was a smart kid - I wasn’t a vandal. I was just a loose cannon. I just came from things from really different angles.”

Looking back, there wasn’t one particular inspiring figure in his early years that made a lasting impact in Scott’s early years, so much as there was a small village of dedicated teachers - the cast of caring figures that comprised each of his primary school teachers, who all played an important part in his upbringing, and carved out the space for him to be himself.

“They were all really wonderful people, who had this little kid on their hands who bounced off the walls, and wanted to do everything - and they kind of let me do that.”

“I didn’t fit into ‘the conventional way’... but they all made beautiful and amazing exceptions so I could just do stuff.”

A young Scott Wright. Image: Provided

He recalls filling a plastic shopping bag full of mud from his home, and taking it along to school to play with. Rather than reprimanding him for making a mess, his teacher simply adjusted her lesson to incorporate the mud into an educational building exercise. 

“Instead of punishing me, she used it as a stepping stone or a launching pad to teach the rest of the class,” said Scott.

Experiences like this developed thinking skills that extended far beyond textbook education.

“They gave me experience. They gave me the opportunity to find out for myself,” says Scott. “I know the school system is based around knowledge… but I think my teachers also gave me wisdom. I think wisdom is more important than knowledge. Wisdom gives you the ability to look at things with different perspectives.”

Perhaps most significantly, though, they also gave him responsibility. 

He recalls another particularly memorable occasion at age 11, for example, where he was given his very own stall at an education industry expo event. Alongside displays of the latest in the education system, Scott was seated at a booth where he sat crafting masks and puppets from his own collection of salvaged materials and scraps.

“I was this scruffy little messy kid in the corner, with a bunch of glue, and paint… and I just sat there making masks and puppets, with all the  teachers that stopped by. Me, teaching adults how to make a mask, out of… rubbish,” he says, with a chuckle.

“Later, I gave up working on the table, and I got them to crawl around on the floor… I’d decided it was much more fun to do it on the ground, under the table, and for some reason that kinda made things better? There were a handful of teachers that had a really fantastic day with me.”

Another responsibility he was given, albeit in a more unofficial capacity, was working with the school’s students living with disability, providing a kind of hybrid assistance and companionship.

“They must’ve decided, let’s give Scott responsibility, and allow him to look after other people… it taught me empathy. How to care for and love other people.”

“I was really proud of myself.” 

Many of the lessons he picked up during this time carry through to the stunning work Scott creates with Erth. In his view, the person he is today is a direct result of the nurturing openness provided by this band of teachers in his early days.

“It has a big bearing on who I am and what I do today. I do care in so many ways, for the people who work with me, the people I create shows for, the way I create shows.”

“That openness and freedom I had in school have come through in the way I work with other people. I try really hard to give everyone a voice in the room.”

“I think my life is still very reckless. And I mean that in a kind of beautiful way.”

“Every teacher wants to think they have an influence and affect their students. Isn’t that why you become a teacher?”

I think wisdom is more important than knowledge. Wisdom gives you the ability to look at things with different perspectives.

Image: Arts Review

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