Interview 37. – Dr Ken Farquhar


Dr Ken perfected his skills as a science presenter by working as a street performer, mime, school teacher and in television production. He has toured his shows and workshops in schools, science and arts festivals worldwide. He creates inspirational shows and workshops for schools at all levels and delivers development programmes for educational professionals, academics and businesses. He is currently an honorary lecturer in science communication at the University of East Anglia.

Twitter: @drkenfarquhar,

Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.

I got to present my Circus forces show in a tent beside Newton’s house and the famous apple tree. It was an amazing feeling to be able to reference show material so close to the point of origin. The whole event was a combination of schoolboy excitement and joy, but the ultimate thrill was being told I had a changing room inside his house. As I travelled through each room, I marvelled at a first edition of Newton’s Principia and other scientific paraphernalia. Two sets of stairs and a rabbit warren of lefts and rights later I eventually arrived at my destination – a converted office in a loft space – so like the action of gravity on that apple I was unceremoniously brought back to Earth.


How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?

For me wonder is experiencing something which makes you go “wow, isn’t that amazing“, awe is similar but more intense and curiosity is exploring things in more detail. You can put all 3 on a Venn diagram and have experiences of each in isolation or overlapping.


What inspires you to be creative?

When I was twenty three I took a risk. I borrowed some money and travelled half way round the world to Hawaii to attend my first Juggling festival. I didn’t know anyone but a fax from Germany suggested I would swim with dolphins, juggle fire torches by a volcano and hang out with like minded people. It just so happened I was also surrounded by an international group of creative professionals – vaudevillian tap dancers, magicians, street and variety performers. For the evening shows I’d never seen such a diversity in presentation – each performer seemed to have a unique style, character and present differently often with an unusual twist. Over the next five years I returned to Hawaii and went to many other Juggling festivals throughout the world. The performers became friends, mentors and eventually peers. I owe a debt of gratitude to all these creatives as they influenced my own development.


Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?

I used to try and constantly develop new material or alter huge aspects to my show(s). Very time consuming and tiring. I find I have to schedule time to reflect so I can tweak and polish current shows. If I am developing a new project or re-working through ideas, I’ll spend a lot of time playing, thinking, drinking coffee and clearing my mind through meditation.


What do you love about magic?

I love the presentation of effects and the personality of some magicians particularly close-up. I prefer watching it live and love it when I’m fooled and left speechless.

The tricks I play with in my own work are used as a metaphor or to demonstrate a piece of maths, science or engineering. It’s a fantastic tool to engage with audiences so they will join with you on a learning journey.


What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?

The experience of the magician and the material presented. It does take different skills to win over challenging audiences and audience members so they too can embrace the potential wonder of the experience.


Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?

I think the sense of wonder is innate in all of us and whether it’s explored or experienced depends on the individuals experience and/or culture. As a presenter of STEM shows it’s to some extent cultivated and explored within the activities, routines and demonstrations of the material presented.


What does juggling teach you about curiosity and creativity?

Mastering the art of juggling takes a lot of hard work. You must invest many hours over many months being unsuccessful and enjoy the repetition of simple tasks before you can really start playing and exploring. I loved the discipline of learning and still great enjoyment throwing objects to where I want them to land. For me both curiosity and creativity developed throughout this skill journey and accelerated when applied to performing.


As a performer on stage you are one of the most playful people I know and often seem to go off script. Has that always been the case? How do you get the balance right?

I’ve played with lots of different text delivery methods from highly scripted to totally and partially improvised. Many times, there are opportunities in a show to play there are many reasons to take them and probably as many not to. For me I play it’s definitely part of the show be it structured routines where the audience are given the space to join in or unstructured interruptions. The playfulness is part of my stage character which is also part of me. Getting the balance right is partly intuitive, whether there is time available, followed by show experience through repetition and post show reflection.


What do you want your audience to be thinking & feeling when they walk out of one of your shows?

I would love it if my audience would feel inspired to think more fondly about science and scientists. I want my audience to think wow that was cool, the material was interesting, fun and engaging plus that Dr Ken was Fab!.

What stood out for you? Any questions? Things you disagree with? Write a comment and join in the discussion.

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