Showcasing your unique talents and passion to the world in a captivating way to prove that anything is possible when you put your mind to it is not only the engaging aspect of Syfy’s new hit competition series, ‘Wizard Wars,’ but also the captivating life of one of its judges, Christen Gerhart. As one of a small but growing number of female magicians in the world, Gerhart is a pioneer striving to showcase that women are just as capable as men in performing fascinating illusions. The magician is also an innovator in the fact that she also works as a telescope operator at L.A.’s Mount Wilson Observatory, has also worked in Astronomy for almost a decade and is also former NASA researcher who’s worked at JPL/NASA. She also hosts several web shows, including ‘Daily Rehash’ on Ora.TV, ‘Exposé’ on theory11.com and ‘Bitchkraft’ on her official website. Gerhart has inspiringly accomplished all of this at the young age of 24, in the midst of pursuing her marketing degree.
‘Wizard Wars’ takes viewers behind the scenes of magic by challenging a new team of magicians each week to create the most jaw-dropping illusions using an array of random objects and transforming them into eye-popping miracles. The winning team of challengers in the first round then take on the expert “home team” of world-renowned wizards, including two-time World Championship of Magic winner, Gregory Wilson; Wynn Resort resident magician Shimshi; YouTube sensation Justin Flom, and internationally renowned mentalist Angela Funovits. Gerhart is joined by such fellow judges as Penn & Teller and Jason Latimer in rating the best illusions from the challengers on each episode.
Gerhart generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Wizard Wars’ over the phone. Among other things, the magician discussed how she was drawn to the show’s premise that the competitors would be using random objects to create original illusions on the spot, which proved their versatility and unique personalities as magicians; how it’s not only an honor to be able to work with such honored magicians as Penn & Teller on the show, but how she appreciates that everyone, from her fellow judges to the competitors, have remained in contact with each other; and how she hopes the show will prove to audiences that women, along with men, are pioneering the world of magic.
ShockYa (SY): You’re one of the judges on the panel for the Syfy competition show, ‘Wizard Wars.’ What was it about the idea for the show that attracted you to appear as one of the judges?
Christen Gerhart (CG): Well, it wasn’t so much that I was going to be a judge that intrigued me; it was more the opportunity that I was going to be able to watch incredible, creative magic. It’s different than Penn & Teller’s ‘Fool Us,’ as on that show, people can bring their own tailored made illusions. On this show, we’re giving them random objects, and they’re forced to be incredibly creative. They have to create new magic with these things. I think that intrigued me-I liked being part of this in a way that I get to watch beautiful shows from talented performers.
SY: The contestants’ acts are judged on the basis of originality, creativity and showmanship. What are some of the things you look for when you’re watching and critiquing the acts?
CG: Well, there are a few things we look for, right off the bat-creativity, deceptiveness and showmanship. But I think more than that, we really love watching performers who are themselves, and are very unique and bring their own style. It’s very cool to see a performer come on the show who has a great sense of how they like to perform, and what magic they like to do. Then we can get a glimpse into not only who they are as a magician, but also as a performer and a person, and that’s really cool.
SY: The show follows you and your fellow judges as you critique top magicians. What are some pieces of advice that you have for not only the competitors on the show, but also all magicians who are just starting off their careers, especially tips that you wish you knew as you were starting your career?
CG: One of the most wonderful things about being on the show is being able to watch performers who are themselves. Maybe they have a stage persona, and that’s great. But I say, just own it. Get a sense of who you are, and be comfortable and happy with it. Enjoy your performance, because we can tell if you’re up on stage and you’re forcing it. Just go up there and have a blast, because it’s a fun show and a fun idea. We really get lost in performers who get lost in performing.
Q: Penn & Teller, who you mentioned earlier, are just two of your fellow magicians that have also appeared on ‘Wizard Wars’ with you. What was the experience of working with such renowned magicians on the judges’ panel?
CG: Working with them is not only an incredible working experience, but also an honor. They have more magic experience than years I’ve been alive. So getting to be a part of their world, even for a few days to film a few episodes, is amazing. I’ve learned so much, and that knowledge is truly priceless. They’re also incredible individuals off camera, so that’s a real treat.
SY: The premiere of ‘Wizard Wars’ on August 19 garnered 1.3 million total viewers, and its first season ranks as Syfy’s number one unscripted series of the year among men. What does it mean to you that audiences have responded so well to the show?
CG: It makes me so happy. ‘Wizard Wars’ has done incredible things for magic, as we’ve received incredible responses from people. The fanbase has not only been with us since day one, but they’re also so accepting and positive about all of the performers who have been on the show. That goes to show that ‘Wizard Wars’ is a fantastic medium for magic.
We also nailed it with all the people we brought on board. Everyone’s been on their game, and are so sweet. It’s such a wonderful cast and crew. I feel like the final product of the series is so wonderful, and I’m really proud of it.
SY: Since the show’s first six episodes have been so successful, Syfy has ordered six more episodes, which you’ll be shooting this week, and they’re set to air in January. What are you most looking forward to in returning for the show’s new episodes, particularly now that the show has found success with audiences?
CG: I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to see what we have in store. I love going into these next six episodes, and being fully surprised. We’re definitely stepping things up for these next six episodes, and I’m completely in awe to be a part of it again.
I’m glad I get to see everyone again. Everyone really became a family, and not only the judges became close; even the competitors who were only on an episode or two stays in touch with us. It’s such a wonderful group of people, and there’s so much love. So to be back on set feels so good.
SY: Besides appearing on ‘Wizard Wars,’ you have also hosted several web shows, including ‘Daily Rehash’ on Ora.TV, and ‘Exposé’ on theory11.com, a site dedicated to advancing the art of magic. Why do you enjoy hosting series, particularly ones about magic, so much? Is there a difference between appearing on ‘Wizard Wars,’ which is broadcast on a cable network, and your web series?
CG: I love doing all of it, but they’re totally different things. On ‘Wizard Wars,’ I’m more in the magician mindset, but I’m also very much myself. On the web shows, it’s still me, but I get to act a little more, and be a little goofier. They’re both creative outlets and I enjoy them both tremendously, but in different ways. So I could never say I love one more than the other, because they’re such different things.
SY: You have also recently launched ‘Bitchkraft,’ a web series featuring original, female centric magic that’s mixed with humor. How did you become involved in that series? Why do you think it’s important to incorporate women into magic, and target a show towards them?
CG: ‘Bitchkraft’ was something I created with my co-star, Eden Dranger. I’ve been magic for about nine years now. There have been women in magic, which is wonderful, but there haven’t been too many that aren’t in the assistant role. There aren’t too many women doing magic in the same vein as men.
When I met with Eden back in January or February, we began talking, and knew magicians in the magic community. We thought it would be great if we could create a show that’s really female centric. So we started working on the show, and it grew and evolved into a silly and goofy, but also strong, magic series.
It’s been an absolutely incredible experience. We’ve had an incredible response from the magic community, and that made us feel welcomed and good about the magic we’re creating for the show. It’s all original magic, and it’s something I don’t think the world has seen yet. So it will be cool to see it continue to grow. It will hopefully open more opportunities for women in magic..
SY: Speaking of the fact that there aren’t as many women performing magic as men, do you hope your shows will help influence more women to start doing magic?
CG: Yes. When I was about 15, I really got into magic. The more I got into the magic scene, it dawned on me that there aren’t as many women practicing magic as men who are practicing it. It wasn’t really my goal to pioneer women magic, but it was my goal to perform magic and do what I love.
But it has been in the back of my mind that it would be great to put myself out there as much as I can. That way more women can see themselves in the magician role, instead of just the assistant role. Or they can at least think, I can do that. In some respects, I can show them it is possible to push the boundaries of magic themselves. So I do hope the shows can help open more doors, and show people not to just think of magic as a male world. Hopefully they’ll change people’s perceptions about magicians in general, and give more opportunities to women in magic.
SY: Besides being a magician, you also work as a telescope operator on L.A.’s Mount Wilson Observatory, and have also worked in Astronomy and are a former NASA researcher. How does your experience in science influence your work as a magician?
CG: It has, yes, but I’ve kind of always kept them separate. In science, you’re really trying to find the truth and answer questions, and be very logical. In magic, nothing’s supposed to make sense. You’re supposed to make things float, even though we know gravity is a factor. We’re supposed to defy logic and do the impossible. So they’re different things, but they work together very nicely.
But science has definitely shaped the way I approach some of my performances, and who I am as a person when I’m performing, as well. So I’m really glad I have that science background to shape my magic, and give me that foundation.
SY: You were in the middle of working on your astrophysics degree when you decided to pursue magic. What was the process of deciding to pursue a career in magic instead of science?
CG: Well, I actually switched degrees, and I’m working on my marketing degree. But I’ll always love, and work in, astronomy, and I love my job at Mount Wilson Observatory. But I knew that wasn’t the right career path for me.
So when I switched to marketing, I had already started doing some web shows and performances. But it was never really my intention to pursue magic as a full-time career, because I’ve always wanted to do a lot of different things. But I’m happy to say that magic has turned into a career, and it’s been wonderful.
But I’m still pursuing my other degree, because I do enjoy being in school. I’m going to see where things go, because it may turn out that magic may be my career, or marketing may take over. Or I may go back into science. I like to keep the doors open, because I have so many interests. I like pursuing all of them, because they’re all true passions of mine.
SY: What do you hope people who aren’t familiar with ‘Wizard Wars,’ your web series and magic in general can take away from your shows?
CG: I really hope that it can at least, in some way, contribute to changing the view that magic is a male dominated field, to being a gender neutral field. That way if there’s a casting call or movie, or if someone wants to hire a magician, they don’t automatically assume they have to look up a man for the job. I would love in some way to change that around, so that people can view it equally. That way they can seek out women who are in magic.
I want to encourage people to not only see myself, but also get acquainted with all the women who are in magic. I would love to have them showcased as well, because it’s truly spectacular that women have helped pioneer magic up until this point. It’s fantastic to be a part of that group.
Written by: Karen Benardello