Translating Tales of the Trickster

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac Creative Arts, Humanities & Education


The research will create an open space for creative and critical discussion of the ways in which trickster folklores are being translated, written, performed and lived within contemporary cultures. We will consider how trickster folklore is being translated into new forms of fiction and will explore how trickster narratives are lived and performed in everyday life

The main vehicle for research will be a network of academic, creative and public partnerships that will respond to the theme "Translating Tales of the Trickster" through a series of micro fictions, performances and papers that are intended to stimulate debate across disciplines and contexts. The network will explore the feasibility of creating a digital archive of established and emerging trickster tales.

The mythical trickster character often possesses magical abilities and may transform his/her/its own identity and that of any surrounding people or environment. A core characteristic is that she/he/it is never as first appears. S/he is the friend who turns out to be an opponent, the witch who helps the hero return home or the lover disguised as a monster. In folklore, the trickster appears in the guise of a fool, a hag, a fox, a hare and a coyote. In modern fiction, the trickster is the false-love in romance stories or the criminal in detective stories. Finally, in contemporary contexts of new writing and performance, the trickster steps out of a magical circle of fiction to perform actions that have consequences in the physical world.

The rational for the proposed network is to engage with the, as yet, unexplored opportunities to develop a new body of research into the continuing translations of trickster mythology across new cultures of writing, performance and lived experience.

In order to stimulate ideas, we will be holding two workshops: the first will focus on traditional folklore and the second will introduce new examples of trickster narratives. In the latter workshop, we will explore the use of performance and creative writing as means with which to feedback research findings to relevant stakeholders groups.

Planned Impact

Translating Tales of the Trickster will benefit communities of storytellers, creative writers and performers working in non-academic disciplines of public education, theatre, literature, digital media and pervasive media. The work will open opportunities for developing knowledge and facilitating the translation of narrative practices embedded within Trickster folklore into new modes of production and distribution. In addition, the case study of the translation of Nigerian folklore into fraud will benefit an international community of crime prevention organisations and "change leaders" in the UK and Africa.

Translating Tales of the Trickster will attend to a critical gap in research regarding the role and representation of trickster narratives in contemporary cultures. Beyond academic research, the network will develop and exchange knowledge by creating three distinct pathways to impact across creative practice, public sector organisation and international contexts.

The work will impact upon creative organisations through direct engagement with the Pervasive Media Studio, The George Ewart Centre for Storytelling and the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival. In addition, the Principle Investigator and co-applicant, Holly Howitt-Dring, will keep peers in their respective communities updated on progress of the network through organisations such as Lucidi, a creative community of writers. Holly Howitt-Dring will also present original fictional work produced through the project at the National Flash Fiction Day project In June 2012.

Key targets for the dissemination of theories emerging from the project will be The Journal of Media Practice, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice and The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies Articles. We have selected these journals because they are also read by creative writers and performers working outside of academic contexts. To reach a wider artistic sphere, articles will also be submitted to leading arts and technology journals, such as Mute and Leonardo, and public presentations will be made at key UK arts and technology centres, such as Watershed in Bristol, FACT in Liverpool and the ICA in London.

The inclusion of creative responses to the theme from practitioners (in the form of micro-fictions and micro-performances) will enable us to extend the impact of our research to a wider public audience that would not normally engage with academic research. The Principle Investigator, Bambo Soyinka, for example, is already in consultation with cultural leaders from Nigeria (see international pathway) who are interested in using her work with youth groups in order to explore the ways in which trickster narratives enable us to reflect on creative and destructive forms of social and cultural interaction.

Academic responses to the theme will also be used to influence and inform public bodies. Network member, Dr. Matthew Williams, for example, is particularly interested in the ways in which the research may help crime prevention bodies better understand the cultural contexts from which certain deviant behaviours originate in the UK and his responses to the theme will provide a pathway to crime prevention bodies and forces within the UK.

The research network will initially connect with international partners through association with bodies in the UK that are linked to communities overseas. Our partnership with the Beyond the Border Festival is an example of this strategy in action. In addition, the Principle Investigator will seek to establish and develop links with overseas partners in the course of the research. In preparation for this, she has, for example, already established links with the School of Theatre and Media Arts in Ibadan University, Nigeria and will seek to develop further links with the Schools of Business and Social Science.


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Title The Bag of Tricks by Stuart Nolan. 
Description In storytelling magic the aim of the magician is both to fool the audience and to use magic to illustrate the story. In some traditions, the methods of the magic effects are revealed and the revelation itself forms part of the storytelling. The story is taught and passed on as a gift. The gift is both in the fooling and in the teaching of the story. In response to the Translating the Trickster Stuart Nolan created a short, new, performance magic piece using simple technical methods that can be easily learnt. I will perform and teach this effect as part of a workshop on Trickster Magic. The piece was designed as an impromptu performance using simple, small, easily available materials that can be easily carried. The workshop will also consider at the influence of Trickster stories in performance magic through the teaching of a number of storytelling magic effects from a variety of both traditional and contemporary sources. In the workshop, participants will adapted this Bag of Tricks to their own practice. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This event opened up dialogue between traditional storytellers, magicians and academics around the theme of the Trickster. The knowledge emerging from this exchange has since been developed and distributed through workshops in schools and community centres. The inclusion of this newly developed work at Beyond the Border enabled us to reach an audience of over 1000 people. 
Title The Trickster and Tricked 
Description An evening of storytelling at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol, with leading UK storytellers, Tuup and Ben Haggerty. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This event opened up dialogue between flash fiction writers, traditional storytellers, educators and academics around the theme of the Trickster. The knowledge emerging from this event has since been developed and distributed through workshops in schools and community centres. 
Title Translating Tales of the Trickster through the Spoken Word 
Description An evening of flash fiction produced in direct response to the theme. With new works and readings from micro fiction writers Holly Howitt, Clare Potter, Susie Wild, Gemma Jane Howell, Richard Owain Roberts, Ralph Hoyte, Anita Maccallum. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This event opened up dialogue between flash fiction writers, traditional storytellers, educators and academics around the theme of the Trickster. The knowledge emerging from this event has since been developed and distributed through workshops in schools and community centres. 
Title Trickster 
Description Dominic Kelly, embarked on an audacious tale of trickery and deceit. A 3monkeys commission funded by Arts Council England and performed at Beyond the Border 2012 international storytelling festival as part of Translating Tales of the Trickster. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This performance was used to stimulate dialogue between flash fiction writers, traditional storytellers, educators and academics around the theme of the Trickster. Beyond the Border is the leading international festival for storytelling. The inclusion of a curated series of Trickster performances at this event enabled us to reach an international audience of over 1000 people. 
Description Funded by the AHRC, the objective was to create a framework for developing practitioner-led research into transformations of Trickster mythology and narrative form across contemporary practices of writing, performance and lived experience. The process of interdisciplinary dialogue around this theme highlighted significant differences between the social-cultural function of Trickster within oral storytelling sub-cultures and mainstream cultures. In oral storytelling circles, Trickster is represented as a complex, poetic and ambiguous character. His social function, beyond the story, is to encourage audiences to explore moral thresholds and to consider values and limits to disruptive action.
Exploitation Route In mainstream culture, Trickster is most typically represented as a one-dimensional psychopath. The contemporary focus of Trickster as a criminal "passing" for someone else may relate to our dominant networked culture of appearances, in which it is increasingly difficult to separate a "real" person from their online identity/ image. More generally, Trickster appears to hold salience within times of strain, trauma and socio-economic transformation.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The research took place over six months, beginning and ending with interdisciplinary workshops. Soyinka curated a series of Trickster performances (including new works produced through the research) and collaborated with artists to create Trickster visualisations. To share and progressively focus research insights, she presented these resources within workshops and through a prototype, online archive. Translating Tales of the Trickster was disseminated through a range of cultural and creative institutions, including The Pervasive Media Studio, the Tobacco Factory, The George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling and Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival. The online archive reached international audiences and research findings were presented in a keynote speech at an international conference at the University of Maine in 2013. The knowledge created through this project has been used to develop workshops within schools and as stimulus for Anti-Bullying workshops in community centres. See, for example, "As Good as You Give" a performance and workshop that brings awareness to the problem of bullying in the community. The Trickster Tales Archive, in addition, influenced the development of Book Kernel. Book Kernel is a system and service for recording live events and translations. It has been used by major national and international organisations including The Guardian and the British Council.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Title Trickster Tales: an online resource, network and prototype archive. 
Description The prototype online system enables the arching and tagging of sources and responses to the Theme of the Trickster. Our vision is to enable audiences to explore the relationship between traditional oral stories, popular culture and creative fiction. The longer term aim of this prototype is to develop a system for tagging and tracking the migration of stories across the globe. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The Trickster Tales archive influenced the development of "Book Kernel" a system for recording the ongoing development of live events, books and translations. Creative Start up Hodcha and Alexis Nouss developed Book Kernel through the REACT Books and Print scheme. Notable cultural institutions including the Guardian and the British Council have used the Book Kernel system. 
Description Translating Tales of the Trickster - Open Space workshops and presentations at Beyond the Border 2012 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This programme of activities and workshops enabled dialogue between previously distinct areas of cultural practice on theme of the Trickster. The substantive part of this research was designed to reach and facilitate communication between an audience of storytellers, creative writers and performers working in non-academic fields of public education, theatre, literature, digital media and pervasive media. At the end of the project, I conducted qualitative interviews and focus groups with the aim of evaluating the design of the interdisciplinary process. In these feedback sessions, participants said that they valued the opportunity to creatively respond to the theme of the Trickster and to integrate this new knowledge into their own creative, educational and community-based projects, thus, creating new ways of seeing and working with the Trickster archetype.

David Ambrose, founder and Director of Beyond the Border, said of the process:

"As someone who works with stories and other storytellers, I sometimes take it for granted that I know things about my field of work. Through this project, I was encouraged to think again about Trickster's nature. In particular, I was reminded of the living aspects of Trickster and his relevance to contemporary culture. It was great to discuss Trickster with a group of academics, visual artists and people from different backgrounds within the framework of an interesting and imaginative structure. As the Director of Beyond the Border, I also welcomed the opportunity to invite new audiences to our storytelling festival. It would be fascinating and insightful to take this project further. I would like to use the same framework to explore another archetype, comparing and harnessing perspectives from people working."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012