Dr. Bunhead will be putting the sizzle into science live on stage this month. Expat Parent caught up with him.
Can you reveal your true identity?
My real name is Tom Pringle but even my friends call me Bunhead, or just plain Bun from time to time.
Why the passion for science?
I had a fantastic chemistry teacher at school called Mr Walters. He was both terrifying and amazing in equal measure. I couldn’t wait for his class each week.
What came first, the scientist or the performer?
Definitely the scientist. In my first shows back in 1995 I simply stood and bombarded my audiences with a line up of spectacular demonstrations. With time, I learnt to come out from behind the demonstrations and to build the Dr Bunhead character. I used my audience as a laboratory to discover what they liked and taught myself how to perform. But recently I decided it really was time to get a professional performance training. So I took a year out to study a full-time diploma in physical theatre practice. It was a really tough year for me but it has definitely had a positive impact on my work.
So what’s your performance history?
I was first picked up by the BBC in 1998 when I was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which is the largest arts festival in the world). They invited me onto a children’s television programme. I must have done something right because they kept inviting me back and then finally offered me my own science TV series – called Hyperlinks. I then appeared in a lot of other TV shows but the most famous is Brainiac. Brainiac was a fantastic team to work with and the shows are still broadcast all over the world – so I get a lot of overseas work thanks to those programmes.
Tell us about your Guinness World Record attempts…
I have the record for the longest glow-in-the-dark necklace (over 1,000 feet long). It took me several months to work out how to do it without glow-in-the-dark chemicals erupting all over the place. My walls often resembled a glowing Jackson Pollock painting during research periods.
I have another record for the most potatoes fired (in three minutes) from a potato bazooka and through a tennis racket to make chips. I’m very keen to try and break it. However, there is some controversy over this at the moment. My original combustion-powered record has been “broken” by a team using compressed air. I am contesting their claim as a different record, since it’s a bit like racing on roller skates against a bicycle. Both are valid records but they are not the same record. Similarly, my combustion-powered record is substantially more difficult – both technically and mechanically – than using a simple compressed air cannon.
Do you have a favourite experiment?
I have a few favourites which change over time. Sometimes the least dramatic demonstrations can bring about the most profound moments of understanding in an audience. I like these the most.
Has anything ever gone wrong?
Lots of things go wrong! Almost every show has something misbehave or turn out differently to the way I’d expected. My head is often in about ten different places at once (or on fire). I’m often re-scripting the show, on the spot, in time to a musical backing tracking whilst weighing up the safety implications, simultaneously maintaining a relationship with the audience and holding onto the overall learning objective, whilst making it all look as if that is exactly the way it was meant to be presented. There is a strong element of improvisation in my shows, which helps keep them fresh.
What are the challenges of bringing science to the live stage?
Maintaining absolute safety alongside the maximum sense of impending disaster whilst keeping the audience entertained and informed. There is a rock solid script from which I improvise as and when things go off in unusual directions. Sometimes a simple audience comment can send me off on a short detour, picking up fresh nuggets of science on the way.
What do you hope to achieve by performing live science on stage?
I want people to feel some of the fascination and thrill I felt when I grew up learning science. I want them to go away feeling happy, excited and hopefully a little more curious about the amazing world we live in.
What can audiences expect from your Hong Kong show?
Fast-paced, science anarchy with sneaky bits of educational material smuggled in when you least expect it.
How will you be relaxing between shows?
I’ve performed here twice before and had a fantastic time exploring near and far. My secret passion is Argentine tango and Hong Kong has excellent dancers and frequent social dances (the social dances are called milongas). I will definitely be looking up the nearest milongas during my stay as well as taking a trip to the south coast on the number 6 bus (if I remember correctly).
Dr. Bunhead will be performing live in Dr. Bunhead’s Blast Off, May 11-14, Drama Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, www.hkticketing.com