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Hope: A Storytelling Workshop

Led by Doug Lipman

"Perhaps it could be true? All the world as it could be? His soul was overcome with sweet, painful hope...." - The Soul of Hope

Hope sounds like something simple, something we can all agree is good and desirable. But hope is actually complicated. Not only do we need and desire hope for our own lives and for the world, we may also fear it and strive to protect ourselves from it.

Wrestling with a Story

The impulse for this workshop came, in part, from my years of wrestling with the two-act Jewish mystical adventure story that I call The Soul of Hope.

The story begins in a time of despair. For the Jews of Eastern Europe, oppression has been heavy and seems only to be getting worse. In response, one man prays: "Please send us something that will make it easier for us to hope." After many trials, a soul is born with that mission. But the child's purity draws only incomprehension and impatience from the "practical world." To protect himself, the boy finally takes the appearance of a simpleton. In time, he grows to reject his isolated life and dedicate himself to a grand spiritual mission: to draw down from heaven the unborn soul of the Messiah, thus ushering in the start of an age when the world will be ultimately transformed.

This story haunted me, from the time I first heard a twenty-minute version told in 1983. I was not aware of why the story seemed so important to me, but I wrestled with it, first to expand the story to make a complete shape, then to perform it well. Along the way, I began to call it "the Soul of Hope."

For years, it had only limited success with audiences. I would put the story away for a while, then get a new idea about how to tell it, try it out, feel its failure, and put it away again. This cycle happened many times over a thirteen-year period.

A Breakthrough

The breakthrough came for me one day when I was rehearsing the story with Gail Rosen of Baltimore. I was about to perform the story that evening, but - due to my feelings of failure about the show - had not got around to rehearsing it for months!

Since I only had an hour with Gail, I didn't have time to tell the entire two-hour story. Instead, I resorted to talking through each of the characters, describing the development each one goes through in the story and what feelings each one needed to bring forth. I was amazed to discover that the story had over thirty characters. No wonder it had felt unwieldy to tell!

Fifty-five minutes into the hour, I began to talk about a character who has only one line in the story: the soul of the Messiah. When I took a moment to feel what this character meant, unexpectedly I burst into tears. Since Gail is such a good listener, the tears kept flowing.

After three or four minutes of crying, I had an insight. This is a big thing, to hope for the Messiah! I realized that I had never let myself fully take that in. Why? Because it was painful. To hope for something that large - that the entire world would become as it could be, that humans would stop harming each other and our surroundings - was to confront all the disappointments of my life. The bigger the hope, the more I would have to process my past despair, in order to fully embrace it.

A New Focus

Gail had to leave. With only a few minutes before I had to prepare the stage for my story, I found a phone and began to call up my "feelings buddies" back in Boston. Luckily, one of them was home and had ten minutes to listen to me cry about the idea of hoping for complete transformation of the world.

That evening, I told the story to high school students. As a setting for a long spiritual story, the surroundings could hardly have been worse. The students were much more interested in talking to each other and in eating popcorn than in hearing a story. But my telling was the best it had ever been! I had found a new flexibility, a broader range of expression.

After that night, I stopped worrying so much about the exact plot of the story. Instead, over the next months I began to focus on my relationship to hope. After all, I had chosen a title for the story with the word "hope" in it! My exploration of hope not only changed this story, it changed me as a performer, as a self-employed artist, and as a person.

What Workshop Do I Most Want to Lead?

Last June, I discovered that I had a chance to use the Hemlocks Outdoor Education Center for a May weekend. I couldn't pass it up!

Hemlocks is a special place. Built by Easter Seals as an outdoor education facility for people with disabilities, the architecture alone is a teacher. Everything is accessible, from the nature trail by the pond to the Braille door numbers and the barrier-free showers.

Usually, I think of a workshop that people seem to want, then I find a place for it. But in this case, the place came first. Now that I had this great setting, what workshop did I want to lead? To my surprise, I began to think again about hope.

People who are attracted to storytelling are often hopeful people. Storytelling offers an alternative to "business as usual" in our increasing mechanical, electronic, impersonal society. But when do people really get a chance to focus on hope? All at once I had the image of a retreat in the beautiful Connecticut countryside where we can truly look at the role of hope in our lives:

  • what we hope for;
  • what experiences have given us hope;
  • what we are afraid to hope for or have given up hoping for;
  • what images of hope lead us on.

Bringers of Hope

In addition, many storytellers are bringers of hope. This brings up another set of questions:

  • How do we reach out to people around hope?
  • If hope is actually a complicated issue, how should we approach it in our work?
  • What stories do we need to tell to the people around us?
  • What stories do we need to elicit from the people around us?

All this led me to a workshop design. We'll spend a weekend in the countryside, talking and thinking about hope, listening to stories and telling our own stories. We'll begin by exploring the issues and images that matter to us around hope. Saturday night, I'll tell "The Soul of Hope." Sunday we'll focus on bringing what we've learned back to the rest of our lives.

Are you interested in this kind of a storytelling adventure? Please email, call, or write with questions, concerns, or just to learn more.

The Details

Dates:
May 4-6, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.
Location:
Hemlocks is near Hartford, Connecticut, about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Boston, perhaps a 1 1/2 hour drive from New York. The nearest airport is Bradley Airport, about a 45-minute drive from Hemlocks. (If you fly into Bradley, I'll help you arrange ground transport.)
Size of group:
Limited to 19.
Cost:
$345, including room and board. To save a place, send a deposit of $100.
(Make your check payable to Doug Lipman; I can also accept Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.)
If you want an experience of the transformational power of storytelling, please consider joining us! If you find yourself holding the lamp of hope for others, give yourself this weekend to refuel and retool the torch!

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2003 Doug Lipman