A First Look At The Peacock Theater in Frisco
A First Look At The Peacock Theater in Frisco
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Scott Ellis: Welcome to the Frisco podcast. I’m Scott Ellis, and this week my guests are Randy Pitchford, Kristy Pitchford, and Brett Loudermilk. Now you guys probably already know Randy as the CEO and one of the co-founders of Gearbox Software. This week we’re not talking about Gearbox, we’re talking about the Peacock Theater, which is a very cool, old vaudeville style variety show type theater that the Pitchfords have built in their home, and they’re going to be doing a whole lot of fun and interesting things there. Some of you guys might even get a chance to go take in a show or two, you just never know. Check this out, this is a fun interview, these guys are having a good time here in Frisco, and they’re bringing some cool things to the town.
All right guys, welcome to the show. I’ve got Randy and Brett here with us on the Frisco podcast, thank you guys very much for joining us today.
Brett Loudermilk: Thank you.
Randy Pitchford: Glad to here.
Scott Ellis: Randy people know you generally around town as the CEO of Gearbox but we’re going to talk about something different today. We’ll come back and talk about Gearbox another time because you guys have something really interesting happening out of your home here in Frisco and that is the Peacock Theater. I’m going to let you queue it up and tell people what the Peacock Theater is and how did this even come about?
Randy Pitchford: The Peacock Theater is a private intimate setting theater for variety arts and live entertainment in Frisco, Texas. It sits about well maximum capacity is about 100 people and we get really interesting and awesome acts, that come in blow people’s minds.
Scott Ellis: I will attest to that. Wendy and I had the chance to go to the inaugural show and it was fantastic. You guys had some incredibly talented people there. One of those people also happens to be the creative director of the Peacock Theater who is going to be working you ongoing basis and that is Brett Loudermilk. Brett welcome to Frisco even though I know you’re not here full time.
Brett Loudermilk: Yeah I live in Los Angeles and will be going back and forth from here and Frisco.
Scott Ellis: All right, we look forward to having you in town and hopeful we can show you around and make sure you’re not feeling too isolated from all the fun things happening out in LA but I’m sure Randy is going to keep you busy at the theater. First of all why don’t we start with a question for Randy and that why a theater in your home? What got you going into the sort of magic/variety show genre of entertainment?
Randy Pitchford: I kind of lead a dual life. A lot of people in Frisco know me of course as the president and CEO of Gearbox software and there is a lot of folks that know me in the video game world through our video games that we create at Gearbox but long before I ever made my first video game, I was a magician. I lived in Hollywood, California and I performed at a place called Wizards which is a magic night club in Hollywood and occasionally at the Magic Castle. I think it’s why I’m here. I think live performance and variety arts has given me more and taught me more about how to create entrainment on large scale that any other experience I’ve had. I’m drawing from those roots and the love for variety arts and trying to bring that at a world class level to our local community here in Frisco.
Scott Ellis: We’re certainly excited to have that here. There is a fairly grassroots effort around the arts in Frisco. Frisco has done a lot very good things for the community so far. One of the area that I think most of us would agree we’re lagging behind a little bit in the arts. As far as I know there is nobody that’s doing anything quite like this, it’s mostly centered around music visual arts and things like that so far. This is going to be a very welcome edition to the arts community in Frisco.
Randy Pitchford: I hope so. Since we arrived incidentally, since my company came to Frisco I believe we are the largest single employer of artists in town, probably in all of Dallas if you add it up but certainly in Frisco. Art is important it tells us something about ourselves but it also is the source of commoditized joy and happiness. Joy and happiness is what makes life worth living. If you’ve experienced any form of entertainment that’s given you joy and happiness you what I’m talking about but if you have not experienced live entertainment and variety arts like you yourself experienced the Peacock Theater you have no idea what you’re missing. We hope to bring that both the inspirational value of that kind of experience but also just the entertainment value of that kind of experience to the community.
Scott Ellis: Well I have to admit I had no idea what to expect coming to that show but there was not a moment that I did not have a smile on my face. It was a really good time and it definitely brought a lot of joy and happiness to a bunch of people that day. How did you and Brett originally get connected and how did you guys come to work together?
Randy Pitchford: Brett you want to take that one?
Brett Loudermilk: Sure Randy of course I will. The Pitchfords and I, Randy and Kristy and their son and I met in Los Angeles. I believe officially at an event called Beyond Brookledge. That’s a 3 day immerse variety experience that happens at the Mission Inn in Riverside which is this beautiful city block sized Spanish mission style hotel. They came as attendees and I was one of the performers there and we hit it off and we became fast friends.
Randy Pitchford: More importantly is Kristy and Brett begun talking about what we intended to do there, Brett is got a very unique experience. He’s been all over the place and he’s interacted with a lot of different kinds of performance artists from the kinds of people who make their living literally on the streets, street performers to the folks that work in rent fairs, all the way up to the folks that are doing big stuff cirque du soleil shows in Vegas and other things like that. At every level Brett had interactions with these kinds of shows and that kind of talent. I think he has an eye for what’s good and what isn’t and what’s interesting. When you take that experience and that eye and you couple it with a passion that wants to try and move things and wants to try to affect people and you connect that with my Kristy who just wants to create and share joy and is willing to invest into that, magic literally happens and that’s what we’re seeing here.
Scott Ellis: Magic of more than one type unfolding before our very eyes, if you will.
Brett Loudermilk: Yeah, what Randy was saying like my life experience is pretty unique as far as most people’s are concerned. I grew up in West Virginia. I decided I’m not going to do the normal thing, I’m going to be a performer. I was really interested in magic growing up, I learnt how to swallow swords when I was 15. Dropped out of high school, I moved to New York City and became a street performer, very quickly learned how to do that and exactly how hard it is to do that. Then moved from street performing into nightclubs, theaters and I’ve headlined in a Vegas show and should be returning to Vegas shortly in another show. I’ve traveled all over the world and met all these crazy people and been exposed to virtually everything. There is not a lot that I haven’t seen or been a part of. I think that gives me a lot of insight when it comes to putting together a show that’s fit for the title of variety show.
Scott Ellis: Well you did a great job with the talent at the inaugural show, that for sure. If that’s any indication of what’s to come I think we have a lot to look forward to.
Brett Loudermilk: There is a lot of great stuff out there.
Scott Ellis: I’m still trying to get, I can’t remember her name but the one that did the cat routine.
Brett Loudermilk: Lindsay Benner.
Scott Ellis: She was fantastic and it was just so entrancing to watch her.
Randy Pitchford: She’s incredible.
Scott Ellis: She really was. She was completely in character the entire time and just absolutely nailed it. We were laughing about that for a long time after.
Brett Loudermilk: She’s one of those people that’s a like a variety superhero. She’s such a strong person on stage and has a variety of different characters and acts that she does. If you come back and she’s there again she’s likely going to be doing something completely different that’s just as amazing if not more.
Scott Ellis: Well fantastic. We’ll definitely look forward to seeing more of her hopefully at the Peacock Theater. While we’re here before we, we’re going to come back to the Peacock Theater, but I also want to talk a little bit to Kristy who’s in the room with us. Kristy Pitchford.
Kristy Pitchford: Hello.
Scott Ellis: Hi there! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your role in the theater and what you’re going to be doing there as well.
Kristy Pitchford: I guess I imagine that I’m more of a facilitator. I’m the one that talks to Brett and collaborates and we talk about what kinds of shows we want to do. We’re deciding … When you came to the opening show we brought talent from out of town. Those were our friends from Los Angeles and out of Austin and stuff. What we also want to do is we want to cultivate local talent and get people that are closer to home maybe Dallas, Frisco to come and perform too. What Brett and I want to do is we want to start seeing what’s here, holding auditions, offering the venue up to people to hone their acts and that’s really my interest. I love having my friends out to perform and we’re absolutely going to continue doing that, they’re such incredible talent. We really want to do local stuff too and encourage more interest in variety arts locally.
Brett Loudermilk: I think you have places like New York and Los Angeles where people move there to be closer to the arts and to dive into that world and in Frisco and in Dallas there are artist there and there are people that do crazy things and cool things but there is no a lot of places to showcase that. There are a lot of people that are starting out and want to move on and do crazy things and maybe even possibly perform for a living. One of the things that I want to do is help people create a really strong act and something that could put them on the road, that they could travel the world with and spread whatever message they have or whatever idea they want to get across to as many people as they can.
Scott Ellis: Very good. Well you definitely hit on something that is close to home for a lot of people in Frisco and that is the need for more places to be an outlet for the creative talent that we have here. It is something we know we’re sorely lacking. There are definitely a lot of people working on bringing more of that to the city and that becomes increasingly important as well because we’ve got so many people that are moving to Frisco from California and from other parts of the country where they’re used to having more access to those things. While there is perhaps more of it down in Dallas we don’t always want to truck that far down the road just to go see some talent of some kind or another.
Brett Loudermilk: 45 minutes is a commitment.
Scott Ellis: Sometimes it’s a lot worse, let me tell you. You guys will get used to the Dallas North Toll road. Now I know it’s not Los Angeles.
Brett Loudermilk: I live in LA.
Scott Ellis: I promise I’ve had my 2 and 3 hour commutes on the toll road when there is an accident and traffic and it can get pretty bad so if can have that right here in Frisco where that’s less likely to happen we’re very happy to make that the case. Let’s talk a little bit about the theater itself because it was an absolutely beautiful setup you guys have in there. Who was responsible for designing all of that and tell everybody the story about the stain glass peacocks.
Randy Pitchford: The design of the theater evolved. It started from being inspired from a theater that we love it’s a private theater, an intimate theater that’s known as Brookledge. Brett earlier mentioned the Beyond Brookledge event where we met. Brookledge is a place in Los Angeles that was the former home and estate of Floyd Thayer. Floyd Thayer was a magician around the turn of the century that became famous for creating some of the best crafted magical apparatus in the world for the performers of that era. As he retired he traded homes with the family called the Larson family. The Larson, this man was a performer and a lawyer and he loved magic and his family eventually founded the Academy of Magical Arts. They created Genie Magazine which is now the oldest magic magazine in the world. They used the Brookledge homestead.
Now part of the Brookledge homestead that Floyd Thayer and then later the Larsons used to host variety shows just like the kind you experienced when you came to the Peacock Theater. In Hollywood at the time it was difficult for the … Hollywood was blowing up for being Hollywood for movies and motion pictures. It was difficult for the famous people in Hollywood to be able to experience live entertainment without getting hassled by paparazzi or to try their own material in a safe and comfortable environment. Brookledge sort of became the secret underground venue for variety arts for the Hollywood elite. It’s actually going on today.
Erica Larson one of the descendants of the Larson family, who is the former president of the Academy of Magical Arts has brought Brookledge back to life and it’s just a wonderful place with so much history. Orson Welles has performed in that theater. Rita Hayworth is performed in that theater. It’s just an incredible place. Of course people today, I was there not too long ago and got to see Moby do a bit and right after that, I don’t want to name drop, but lots of cool people hang out there. That theater is the inspiration. It’s a smallish theater, the Brookledge Theater has a maximum capacity of about 70 people. We made ours a little larger. Our theater can sit about 100 people. We also built it with modern sensibilities in mind that old kind of vaudeville almost Victorian influence but with modern sensibilities in mind. In addition to having a theater with a stage that can support more types of acts with a 16 foot ceiling for jugglers that want to throw stuff way up high to modern equipment with modern lighting and sound. Really high tech modern of the art stuff.
The design of the theater or the details of the theater evolved as some of our friends got involved to help us kind of iterate the plan. Erica Larson herself, who I mentioned, came out and she had some great notes which affected the control room and audience flow a bit. A friend of ours Michael Carbonaro who currently has a television show on True Tv called the Carbonaro Effect, which I highly recommend if any of you listeners haven’t seen it, it’s an amazing show where he uses magic methods to do basically a candid camera prank show and just melt people’s brains thinking the impossible is happening in real life. It’s super fun to watch, definitely check that out. He came over and helped us fix a key element to how the whole interaction between where the talent can get onto the stage and where the stage is. This resulted in a secret passage way being created that allows access between the green room and the backstage. We call that the Carbor door. He named it actually after himself, Michael Carbonaro named the Carbor Door after himself. It was really good innovation that helped the flow and the design a lot.
In side the theater itself there is all kinds of fun things. For example to get into the place you have to walk through the bar area. I don’t know if you noticed but on the wall of the bar was on one of the walls was a wallpaper and this wallpaper was given to us by Irene Larson. It was 50 years old, she found it, she found an extra roll of it. This was the wallpaper she used originally in the Magic Castle when her brother-in-law Milt, built the Magic Castle. The wallpaper, there is still bits of it in some of the dressing rooms backstage in the main theater but it was in the bathrooms and elsewhere in the Magic Castle. Some of the performers that have performed at the Magic Castle over the years they just a feel a warmth and fondness and kind of home when they see that wallpaper on the wall there. It is a wallpaper that depicts magicians, it’s almost a parody of magicians from the golden age of magic.
Also on that wall I’m not sure if you noticed there was a poster of Alexander, the man who knows this guy in a turban with a crystal ball who clearly looks like some kind of mind reader. If you watch closely you may have noticed that the eyes will follow you on that poster. Some guests have even reported that occasionally the crystal ball will change instead of being an empty crystal ball will actually show a playing card in it and it might happen to be a playing card that was part of an effect done by [inaudible 00:16:50] magician earlier in the night. There is that kind of stuff thoughout the place.
The back 2 rows in the theater are permanent chairs that actually the original chairs from the close up room at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. They’re originally built in 1929. Everyone from Johnny Carson to Neil Patrick Harris has sat in those chairs. I was able to get them from the Magic Castle and I donated to Milt some money to help him refurbish that close up room. The chairs were in bad shape. I had them restored. We sandblasted all the original iron framework. We scrubbed, sanded and polished and refinished all the wood and re-upholstered the chairs themselves and they’re just incredible now. They were actually in great shape they just needed really a good cleaning and being taken care of.
There is also other interesting features including some gimmicks, somethings. Behind the bar, I don’t know if you noticed, but there was an old really interesting looking bottle. It’s rumored that the bottle once belonged to a madam who ran a brothel in Frisco. The story is that she died in that house of ill repute and her ghost haunted the place. In fact the location of that was crossed over the property of the Peacock Theater. Some folks have said that that bottle is enchanted and have seen it actually float and pours drinks including her favorite drink wine. Maybe the next time you visit the Peacock Theater you can see for yourself the enchanted bottle float around and fill a wine glass.
Scott Ellis: I would love to see that. There sounds like there is a lot of Easter eggs and little things to be looking for the next time around that we do this.
Randy Pitchford: There are. Did you happen to see the dematerialization when you were there.
Scott Ellis: I did, that was fascinating. Talk a little bit about that. It’s separate from the theater but it’s still a part of your home, right?
Randy Pitchford: That’s right. The demateriazation chamber is unbelievable to behold because you see a person go in to this chamber and they literally vanish before your eyes. It looks like a Startrek beam me up Scottie kind of thing but it’s happening in real life. That chamber is actually one of the places where people can access and only people like me can access some of the secret passage ways that exist in the home, which as you know looks like a castle.
Scott Ellis: Yes it does and it’s beautiful by the way just a fantastic place. Was it your son that went in the chamber?
Randy Pitchford: It was either my son or Brett. Those are the 2 that did the most that night so you probabaly saw one of the do it.
Scott Ellis: Either way they both made it back okay so we’re in good shape there. Last but not least there are the stained glass peacocks in the theater and there is a little story behind those too right?
Randy Pitchford: The Peacock Theater premise came, Kristy just loves Peacocks and they look great and they show their feathers and the idea of like peacocks showing their feathers became a good symbol for talent trying things out and intimate audience taking risks and daring and just trying to blow minds. That’s where the peacock theater kind of got it’s name and once settled on that we thought how do we adorn it, how are we going to have the peacocks make a presence. It turns out, do you know the King by any chance? Elvis Presley the King of Rock and Roll. If you go to Graceland and you look in his home it’s absurd, it is only the kind of home that the King could have. It turns out in his living room he has these giant stain glass windows that divide the living room from the entry of Graceland and these stain glass window feature giant peacocks. The stain glass windows in the Peacock Theater are replicas of Elvis Presley’s stain glass windows.
Scott Ellis: It seems oddly appropriate that Elvis would have had those in his home but they fit nicely into the theater actually look very nice there.
Randy Pitchford: They’re not exact replicas, we put our own style to it but if you look at the 2 side by side you can feel the influence directly.
Scott Ellis: All right so let’s talk about some of the shows and the plans for the theater. Brett I’m guessing this one is going to go to you since you get to be the creative director and bringing all of that talent but how often do you guys plan to do shows? What kinds of things can we look forward to? What’s in store for everybody?
Brett Loudermilk: Oh man we’re going to all kinds of things. We’re talking about the date for the next show that we’re doing, we haven’t decided on a solid one yet because we have a really awesome special guest that he’s got quite a busy schedule so we’re trying to figure out what day works best for him and then we’re going to work around that.
Randy Pitchford: I’ll say it Brett because he’s thrown me under the bus by saying things about stuff I’ve been working on with him on his podcast. The friend of mine is Penn Jillette of Pen and Teller.
Scott Ellis: Oh no way.
Randy Pitchford: Pen wants to Frisco and do a show for us and he and maybe some of his friends will be coming out. We’re trying to sort of when the best time is for that. If the timing works it might be the next show that we do, if not we’ll definitely get him out for some other show but I can’t wait. He’s been in the theater before, he’s been in the Peacock theater, he’s been to Frisco and he’s made it clear he wants to do the thing. He’s not the only one there is lots of great folks that we can’t wait to get around. If he’ll be available for the next timing then we’ll get him in there and then the hope is to do once a month.
Brett Loudermilk: One of the exciting things about what you are going to see every time you go is that you don’t know what you are going to see when you go. We kind of keep the rooster on the down low. When you show up you might see an old favorite, you might see something completely new. You might see something that you’ve never seen ever in your life and you probably never going to want to see it again. Who knows? We like to mix things up and give you a variety of emotional experiences.
Scott Ellis: I would say that was accomplished in the first show as well by the way. It was awesome in every respect but there were a few things that took a while to get out of my head.
Randy Pitchford: Right? Have you ever seen so much saliva?
Scott Ellis: No not up that close anyway.
Randy Pitchford: Right, that’s your listener’s imaginations and wonder what the heck that means.
Brett Loudermilk: I mean that’s the sexiest part of the show I think. Yes we are just going to do all kinds of things. Some of the shows will be themed. We may have a night that’s all burlesque and it will be the best burlesque dancers in the world that will be there. We might have a show that’s mainly music. We are still in the infancy stages of developing the program, the theater but it’s very exciting. It’s a fresh palette and I can’t wait to create a rich history there.
Scott Ellis: Okay very good. There is no real set frequency though? It’s not going to be planned on a necessarily a monthly basis it will be a little bit more-
Brett Loudermilk: We are going to try to do once a month schedule dependent because the Pitchfords are very busy, I’m also pretty busy. It’s going to be 1 of those things we are going to try our hardest to get like a solid date every month but it may wane back and forth.
Randy Pitchford: I want to get into a cadence where the theater is used more frequently than once a month. I think like the official shows where we invite our guest list will be about once a month. In addition I’d like to, as we cultivate local talent and if there is any people with talents that are listening and that want to try and figure out how to get a hold of us. I want to get to a point where local talent every other 2 week interval can use the theater, can invite their guest and can try things maybe that are still in process, still being worked on. Depending on how it goes, could then book that for the main shows. I’d like that theater to be used for it’s purpose which is to further the growth and cultivation of a variety art scene here in the area.
Scott Ellis: Well I’m glad to hear that because it’s a wonderful facility. It also begs the question; how do you manage that when you’ve built something like that as a part of your home?
Kristy Pitchford: That’s a work in progress. We are figuring that out as we go. We’ve had a couple of shows now and unfortunately up to this point our guest list has been friends of ours in the government, the Frisco government, friends of ours here in Gearbox and local. In addition to, “You came to 1 of our 1 of them,” and stuff. It’s trusted people that we’ve had in our house so we haven’t been too concerned about it. We do find that people tend to like to roam through the house and so we are definitely working on, what’s the best way if we want to make this more inclusive. To give people access to the theater without giving them access to our entire house. We are getting there.
Scott Ellis: Fair enough. We’ll follow back up with you on that a little bit down the road. I was wondering about that because I’d come every week but I don’t think you want me hanging out in your house all the time.
Randy Pitchford: The thing is you discover that the whole place is really built for entertaining. Even though for the last couple of shows we’ve done a huge percentage of the visitors really wanted to explore the place, I haven’t been bothered by that. It’s fine. It’s kind of part of the experience. That said, a more kind of managed traffic flow with guests will allow us to invite wider range of guests and maybe people that we don’t know. People that we might meet through becoming patrons of the theater. To me that’s part of the dream.
Scott Ellis: In sharing that dream with others, I think 1 of the best things we can do is not only extend to them the opportunity if they’re a person of talent to come out and possibly perform there or hone their craft but how do the rest of us get involved? How do you want people to reach out to you, either to perform, to contribute in some way? What does that look like from your standpoint?
Randy Pitchford: Well if you are a talent and you would like to let us know what you can do and see if you can use the theater or maybe even perform 1 night, you should email us at email@example.com. If you want to be a guest, well you should be really nice to Kristy.
Kristy Pitchford: I manage the guest lists so that’s very true.
Scott Ellis: All right everybody you just got the inside scoop. The only inside scoop you really need if you want to go and get invited to see the theater. Okay so anything else in terms of, are you looking for other people to donate in any way, or otherwise get involved, volunteer? Anything like that people might take part in? Or is it really just come on out when you get the invite, see the shows. If you are talented try to come perform?
Randy Pitchford: Volunteers are great for something’s. I am looking for someone, maybe there is an enthusiastic theater person in 1 of the like the community college or high school that would love to just dig deep in our equipment. We have some incredible lighting equipment and sound equipment that can do a lot more than what I have time to master and that can be programmed with all kinds of great effects. Somebody who’d really love to dig in; learn that equipment, develop some skills using that equipment because maybe they are just fascinated by it. Or maybe they want a career as a stage manager or a technology manager for stage shows. That’s a great place to get some really valuable experience and build some credibility in that. They can get a hold of us again at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know they want to try to figure that out.
If we like each other we’ll let you do that. Down the road there might be some ways where we open up avenues where patrons of the theater can help make the entertainers lives easier. Kristy and I aren’t really looking to profit from the experience. We are looking to create experiences and create joy and happiness. Just have a fun place for our friends and for talent to hone their skills and craft. That said, entertainers the best of them dedicate their lives to their craft and everyone’s got to eat. We might create some methods where patrons can donate things to the talent or there might be some charity auctions or things that help the talent get an income from their experiences of theater beyond what Kristy and I can help them out with.
Scott Ellis: Well we are all for helping out in that regard and getting the word out when that time comes so please let us know. Guys thank you very much for coming on to talk about the theater. It is truly a wonderful thing in Frisco, very happy to have you here. Brett let us know when you are back in town. Want to make sure you are comfortable and that you are making some friends here in Frisco.
Kristy Pitchford: He loves comedy club so anything that you could get with regards to comedy clubs he’s down.
Brett Loudermilk: I love them.
Scott Ellis: You got it. I actually know of a couple here in town so we’ll definitely get you out and show you around. If you guys want to look up his name is Brett Loudermilk. You are going to find all kinds of interesting things about sword swallowing and other fun stuff that Brett does. He is very,very talented, excellent MC for the theater as well. Randy I know we are going to be seeing you around town, you and Kristy both. Thank you guys for being a part of the community and helping to support the arts here.
Randy Pitchford: Thanks for having us on your show.
Scott Ellis: You bet guys. We’ll talk to you soon. For everybody that’s listening if you have any questions or you want to reach out, it was email@example.com.
Randy Pitchford: You got it.
Scott Ellis: We’ll link all this up in the show notes so you guys can find out more about the Peacock Theater. We’ll talk to you next week.