On a brisk, February night, just days after winter’s biggest snowfall to date, dozens of adults (and a few kids) shuffle into the banquet space at the Holiday Inn Minneapolis Northwest/Elk River over in Otsego, taking refuge from the cold.
Within minutes, they’re warmed with laughter, song and spirits, as the Peabody Players take the stage and light up the room with improvisational entertainment skills normally reserved for more urban venues.
“I think entertainment is something everyone is looking for, it doesn’t matter where you live. So if you can get that – if you can have a fun night of laughter a bit closer to home, that’s exciting for people. If you can tap into that, maybe you’ve got something,” said Heather Gerard Peabody, the glowing gal at the center of the Peabody Players.
Saturday, March 5, the Peabody Players will become members of the I-94 West Chamber of Commerce. While a ribbon cutting and a few laughs with fellow business representatives is more formality than anything else, the evening will indicate one very important thing: The Peabody Players have found a home. And, as Peabody, herself, said, they’ve tapped into something.
It’s been a journey. The St. Michael actress (actor?) settled into showbiz after returning to the Midwest. She graduated from Wisconsin-River Falls, but tried her hand at the stage in the acting mecca of New York City, where she studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She appeared in a few “off street” productions, which meant she only saw those Broadway lights from the audience. But she learned plenty, and came home determined to stick with it.
A natural spot was the Chanhassen Dinner Theater, and she became a regular face in the productions at the historic spot. Trained in music and acting, she soon learned she had a knack for being the “funny one,” too.
“I enjoyed that part of it. It isn’t written into every show, but when you can get a laugh on stage that’s a good rush,” Heather said.
She started doing improv – imagine the popular show “Who’s Line is it, Anyway?” – at Stevie Ray’s, also in the southwest metro. After a while, though the drives from Crystal (her home then) to work were taking a toll, especially in winters like 2012, when the snow never seemed to stop.
A few discussions with her husband and some friends led her to this path, where, in September 2015, she toyed with the idea of starting a local entertainment troupe. The Peabody Players had their opening shows at the Liberty Bar and Restaurant in St. Michael, using the back room. It started a short run of shows there.
“We eventually outgrew it, but what that kind of venue did was allow us to connect with people,” she said. “We have a lot of entertainers – friends- who come out from the city and work with us. It’s a revolving cast. Except for me. You’re stuck with me.”
People don’t seem to mind – at all. Peabody brings her voice, music and funnies to the plate, with her supporting cast of characters. Now, they’ve moved from the Liberty (which probably seated around 50 people) to the Holiday Inn, where they can host three times as many entertainment-seekers.
“Everything is family appropriate. We’re not going to do anything dirty [maybe some innuendo], and there’s no language. We’re not going to find someone in the audience and just pick on them. But there’s audience involvement, for sure,” she said.
Peabody is hoping to spin the local success into a new improv program at local schools – working with the STMA School District at the elementary level, getting kids into the art of acting.
“If we can keep building it, the more it will become a consistent presence or offering for this area. That’s the hope. So far, so good,” she said with a laugh.
For more on the Peabody Players, check them out on Facebook, where you can see pictures, videos and information about the upcoming shows.
IF YOU GO
What: Peabody Players – Night of Comedy and Ribbon Cutting
Where: Holiday Inn Minneapolis Northwest/Elk River – 9200 Quaday Ave. NE, Otsego, MN 55330
When: Chamber ribbon cutting at 7:45 p.m. Show starts promptly at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 5.
Tickets: Purchase and download at ThePeabodyPlayers.com