7 Questions for Rachel Wax
JWA staff sat down with Jewish magician, Rachel Wax.
JWA: How did you first get involved in magic?
Rachel Wax: My dad is a doctor professionally, but he was always a hobbyist magician. He taught me when I was like, fifteen, and that's the end of the story. I begged him to teach me magic, and he did. I've only been a professional for a couple years, but I've been a hobbyist since I was fifteen. My dad and I even have matching tattoos of a bunny in a hat.
JWA: I noticed that you reference yarmulkes and bat mitzvahs in your act, and I'm wondering if your Jewish identity plays a role in your act?
RW: Yeah, absolutely. I am very openly and proudly Jewish. I say I'm Jewish by nose and by bowels. I haven't been religious in a very long time, but I'm still a proud Jew, culturally, and I make no effort to hide that. I reference it in my act, as you saw. In New York I'm in sort of my own little bubble where lots of people are Jewish. So if I make any Jewish jokes or references, there's often some camaraderie, which is really nice.
JWA: I saw that Gloria Steinem reviewed you, so obviously I have to ask what is the story there?
RW: I don't want to say she reviewed me. I performed at this event for the Female Founders Fund, where Gloria Steinem was speaking. I did some closeup magic for her, and it was so awesome. She said, “She’s the most fan-fucking-tastic magician!” It was the best moment ever. Whenever I see that quote, I'm like, that didn't really happen, I almost gaslight myself.
JWA: I'm sure everyone and their mother asks you this, but what is it like being a female magician in a male-dominated industry?
RW: It's good and bad. There's a lot of misogyny to navigate that I've encountered both from other magicians and from audience members. Some of that you can use to your advantage. I work at a show where the magicians come to your table and do a twelve-minute set. The audience is always seeing men, so when I come to the table, it changes their perspective. Whether they're surprised in a positive way or a negative way, or they don't know what to expect, they don't really have a standard for female magicians in their head.
I get to create that standard, which I don't take lightly. I feel a lot of pressure to do a good job. I don't ever want someone to leave and go, “I guess female magicians aren't as good."
People also heckle me very differently from how they heckle men. They say sexual things or condescending things. I have a very sassy, brassy character. It's taken me a long time to figure it out—I'll always be fine tuning. You want to keep the audience on your side and you want it to be playful. You also want to assert your dominance, make it clear that you are in charge, and you also want them to stop.
You can't show that it gets to you because that doesn't look good to the audience either. It's such a fine tuned balance that goes through my head. Sometimes male magicians will be like, “this is how I deal with hecklers,” which is great to share, but none of that applies to me. If I said what they said, the audience would hate me. So I do things at the beginning of my set to assert my dominance and to set the tone. But people still do it. Men love to interrupt or make sexual jokes and they don't understand that that grates on me over time.
JWA: I saw that you went to fashion school and I'm wondering, does that education and background inform your act in any way?
RW: Yeah, I think so. I always wanted to be a fashion designer, and my mom really supported me in that. So I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and I loved it. It taught me so many more skills than sewing and designing. I think there's a very special problem-solving aspect that goes into constructing garments. I loved fashion. I still do and I always will. I just decided it was time to leave the industry and give magic a real shot. But my time at FIT definitely has helped me. You know, you need pockets to do magic, at least for the stuff I like to do. I have a uniform I wear: a black designer blazer with either pants or a short black skirt. A lot of women's blazers don't have pockets or have very shallow pockets, so I'll sew deeper pockets into my blazers or I'll put pockets in my skirts. That's a skill that has been very useful.
JWA: Who are your role models in this work?
RW: Some specific magicians that I really look up to are David Williamson and Rob Zabrecky. Rob Zabrecky does this creepy character and his commitment to it is so interesting. The way he pushes the audience away and then pulls them back, and keeps that very delicate balance, I think is really masterful to watch.
Also the people who I work with. I go to them for advice all the time. As a woman in magic, sometimes that's hard to find. It's really hard to get notes; either somebody wants to sleep with you, or they don't think you can handle it. But, I appreciate that the people that I work with see me as a peer and care about me doing better. I aspire to be as good as all of them.
I am also very close to and look up to both my parents. My dad saved babies for 30 years and then retired and now does magic full-time. My mom is a very accomplished, balanced person who's done a lot with her life and I really admire that.
JWA: Do you have any shows coming up or anything that you want to plug?
RW: I work at the McKittrick Hotel. There's a show called Speakeasy Magick [New York City] that I do four nights a week. I also perform at the Slipper Room [New York City] and have a lot of other public shows. If you follow my Instagram and my website you will get updates on all of those. And I am secretly working on my own show, so that's exciting.
How to cite this page
Breitman, Emma. "7 Questions for Rachel Wax." 14 March 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/7-questions-rachel-wax>.