Jackson institution The Pink Garter Theatre reopens this week. It was once a premier stage for live music in the region, but it shuttered several years ago. It’s now being rebranded as a destination for local theatre arts, and residents say it’s returning a sense of community back to the region.
‘There goes another one’
The pandemic wasn’t kind to The Pink Garter Theatre. In the spring of 2020 owners announced its closure. Where it stayed for years with the lights off, collecting dust and cobwebs.
Sam Cook grew up in Jackson. His first thought when the theatre shut down: ‘There goes another one.’
“It’s kind of the same swan song as some other Jackson places that are kind of old local establishments that close down and they kind of just fade into history,” Cook said.
Right smack off Jackson’s Center Square, the upstairs theatre is unpresuming on the outside. But step inside, through a lobby, around the corner and up some more stairs, suddenly a grand proscenium arch envelopes a stage.
“It’s a very characteristic place in Jackson,” Andrew Munz said, standing inside the theatre.
Munz, a longtime resident, comedian, director and actor is leasing out the theatre, which is now under new, local ownership.
“It has a long history that is kind of embedded in the walls that are painted maroon and have lots of kind of like old-timey sconces attached to them and chandeliers,” Munz said.
But Munz laughed, saying, “it’s a bit broken.”
“A lot of those sconces need light bulbs,” Munz said. “A lot of the chandeliers are so caked with dust that they are casting dust shadow. There are lots of scrapes, scuffs, so much to to kind of clean off and brush off to bring this theatre back to its original condition.”
Munz recently enlisted the help of the community to get the theatre up to snuff. Dozens of residents showed up on a Sunday to volunteer their time.
Local electrician Dee Lienert was standing up high on scaffolding, fixing lights.
“I’d love to see more comedy and more live performances,” Lienert said. “It makes me happy. I like to laugh. I like to be entertained. And after the last three or four years, it doesn’t hurt to laugh and smile and have fun.”
Lienert said the Pink Garter doesn’t need a lot of work, just some tender loving care. And she said it’s all worth it because Jackson needs the theatre.
“It brings people together, whether you’re in the audience just laughing or crying or whatever you’re doing, enjoy, or if you’re in the production, there’s just community,” she said.
And, according to Munz, Jackson needs community.
“What I’ve witnessed in the past, especially as a local artist, is a lack of attention to what the community is, what the community needs to feel, a sense of unity,” Munz said.
Jackson is a town constantly in flux, where tourists, residents and businesses come and go. Munz, who’s also left and came back in the past, is now laying down new roots, rebirthing the Pink Garter through his new non-profit Tumbleweed Creative Arts.
“I think when the heart is there, that’s where the community really kind of comes together and gathers,” Muz said. “And I’m very, very intent and focused on establishing this theatre as a place where that community can gather in support of local art.”
‘A space of our own’
Part of establishing that community means rebranding. Munz said the theatre, which has changed over the decades from a home for local performances to a hub for touring music acts, has an “identity disorder.”
“There hasn’t really been a very cohesive vision for the theatre, and I think it has lacked any real character development over the years,” Munz said. “That’s something that I’m really focused on, is to bring character back to the Pink Garter.”
And, in this case, locals are playing those characters. Munz is launching his new show. I Can Ski Forever: The Last Run this week. It’s the latest installment of a musical comedy series he’s performed in Jackson that pokes fun at both visitors and residents.
“This is huge for us,” said Marisa Sullivan who is in the cast. “Every step to be planned out in the space, to be able to hear yourself singing in the space, it’s so vitally important to us.”
Sullivan, who’s known Munz since high school, said having the same theatre to rehearse and perform in is a luxury she and others haven’t had in Jackson. It can be expensive or there just isn’t time in a venue’s schedule.
“We’ve never had a space of our own that we could just take over,” Sullivan said. “We need to be able to stretch our wings and to be able to explore and experiment. And that happens so much better when you have your own theatre — that’s home versus space to space to space.”
Jackson, with its rustic charm, is often thought of as a symbol of the American West, but the west also sits in U.S. history as a place of great risk. Andrew Munz said he knows he’s made a bold move taking on the Pink Garter Theatre.
“It’s very scary, I have zero money in my bank account,” Munz said. “I just have a lot of ambition and a lot of good people in my world that are willing to help out.”
Munz said it can be tough to be confident about the future, so for now, he’s focusing on the present.
“What can I do today? What are we doing today? What is right now? That is the only way that I’m able to function as an artist because putting my attention to the current moment — rather than getting too bogged down in the worries of the future or all of the trauma of the past — it dictates my creative perspective, it dictates my motivation. And ultimately I’m just very excited to see what comes next. But today is today. Today is the focus.” – Andrew Munz, Tumbleweed Creative Arts director.
And for locals like Sam Cook, born and raised in Jackson, the Pink Gartner’s reopening signals a change.
“There’s a hint of a refreshing air coming,” Cook said. “Spring is around the corner. And I think about what the next few months through the summer into the fall are going to have for this place, it’s going to be refreshing to see down the road.”
I Can Ski Forever: The Last Run is just the beginning of Andrew Munz’s vision for the Pink Garter Theatre. Expect drag and comedy shows, soirees and more musicals — all put on by locals — on your Jackson calendar in the weeks and months to come.