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Getting to the Heart Through Stories

Lipman uses storytelling to help kids confront problems

By Drew Morris

If he's not a singer, a dancer or a musician, then what is he? He's a storyteller, and Doug Lipman figured this out himself only after some searching.

In 1971, he worked with mentally ill children at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, caring for the children's physical and mental needs.

"This is where I found myself as a singer," says Lipman, who works out of a Medford Street office. "I tried everything with these kids. This is where I made the connection." (Note: I now live in Marshfield, MA)

But Lipman, 45, soon found a better way to bring the children closer together: storytelling.

As defined by Lipman, there is no correct way to tell a story. If hand puppets are needed to get the point across, he suggests that they be used. If juggling would help, that's fine, too. For Lipman, a six-string guitar is usually all that is required, because he likes to mix in singing with his stories.

When performing for large groups, the storyteller says he has "an interesting problem."

"My job is to find stories that are rich enough for the people to each find what they need in it. To me, the way that works is if the story is pointing them to their true self," he explains.

"I'm not making you do things. It's not coercive; it's fun. It makes a sense of community."

In his latest project, The Amazing Teddy Bear, Lipman recorded six stories with songs that deal with issues facing children and parent: the recession, split families and the lack of "quality time." In each of these stories, a child feels hurt or confused.

"The Teddy Bear points the kid in a direction where the answer will lie," says Lipman. "It's more powerful than magically changing the situation; it's not as empowering to the children as 'Here's a little assistance, now you can fix it.'

"There's a real tendency for people trying to help others that they must give an answer. It has to be specific. The role of a helper is to give the specific help they need and no more," says Lipman.

"If you're trying to help people, give them the help they need, not the help you want to give."

Storytelling must also make the listeners use their "active imagination" to visualize the story as it unfolds, like radio.

"Television provides images, but with storytelling, you can form your own image," he says. "Storytelling is personal. Theater provides imagination and a sense of community, but it's not personal. The actors don't acknowledge the audience.

"There's a face-to-face, open avenue between the audience and the storyteller."

It's evident that Lipman possesses the means to open up a lane, and drive straight to your heart. And, like his greatest inspiration, Elliott Coleman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Lipman is able to find the positive in everything, even if it is "buried in a cloud of obscuring irrelevancies."

From The Medford Citizen, Thursday, January 30, 1992.
Used by permission.

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
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