Reanimating the Ghosts of the Pink Garter Theatre
Jackson Hole actor, writer and comedian takes leap of faith and breathes new life into performing arts venue
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Apr 18, 2023
Andrew Munz, a Jackson Hole-based writer, comedian and performing artist, has taken over the lease of the Pink Garter Theatre and is launching a new nonprofit with an eye to creating a community performing arts space. (Wyoming Truth photo by Melissa Thomasma)
By Melissa Thomasma
Special to the Wyoming Truth
JACKSON, Wyo. — They’ve been silenced for quite some time, the ghosts of the Pink Garter Theatre, at least during the daylight hours. Though Andrew Munz, 35, doesn’t believe there are actual paranormal denizens in the downtown icon, he is overjoyed to feel the new thrum of energy and creativity within the space.
Originally constructed in 1969, the Pink Garter Theatre — situated kitty-corner from Jackson Hole’s widely-recognized elk antler arch on the Town Square — was one of the valley’s first performing arts venues. Over the years, it played host to countless community theater productions and dance performances. Its last owners, however, reimagined it as a boutique bar and nightlife spot, removing all of the seats to facilitate dance parties and concerts.
Skyrocketing real estate prices in Jackson Hole and the COVID-19 pandemic ground these events to a halt, followed by the closure of the venue in 2020. Munz — a performing artist best known for his comedic musical series “I Can Ski Forever” and character Your Girl Catherine — immediately noticed when local business owners, including Joe Rice, Ted Staryk and Tyler Davis, acquired the building in January. He reached out to Rice to explore the possibility of utilizing the stage for the final iteration of his series.
“It started as a moment of immediate necessity for myself: we needed a space to perform. But when I learned that they were looking for somebody to take it for the long term, that’s when I jumped on it,” he said.
Munz initially signed a two-month agreement with the new owners, but it quickly expanded to a one-year lease — an interval Munz believes is just the beginning.
To that end, he is spearheading a new nonprofit called Tumbleweed Creative Arts.
Rich history, bright future
The Pink Garter isn’t just a theater to Munz; it’s where his own deep love for theater began. In fact, he can pinpoint the moment: a 1993 performance of “The Pirates of Penzance.”
“There were these incredible swordfights on stage, and somebody swung down from the balcony,” he recalled. “I’m sure I had blown up that production in my 7, 8-year-old brain, but it was magic. I’d never seen a show like that, never heard anybody sing and dance and do that stuff live. I know exactly where I was sitting. I think it’s one of the big moments in my life. One of these pillars of just like: this will be in me until I die.”
After being dazzled by the dancing pirates, Munz auditioned for children’s musical productions and took drama classes in school. He grew up in the Jackson theater world, where he was taught by local actors and professionals who had moved to the area.
“Ultimately, I wasn’t taking workshops with a bunch of Disney artists,” Munz said. “My theater heroes were never these elusive people from Broadway. I didn’t know who Bernadette Peters was.”
Munz’s vision for the future of the Pink Garter springs directly from this past: a space that is not exclusively for bands or DJs to swoop in for an evening, but rather a community hub for creation, connection and performance. “To know that we’re creating weird stuff here, we’re infusing this place with an energy that feels a bit more aligned — a bit more familiar to the ghosts in the walls — versus presenting a show and just having people come for the show and then they leave,” he said.
Historically, Munz said, the Pink Garter filled a role in the community where people of all ages could connect as part of a cast or an audience. In recent years, he feels that such a space has been sorely missed — and that’s a core tenet of his vision for the next chapter.
“Let’s focus on community,” he said. “Supporting and creating together, finding new things out, making friends. That sense of collaboration, I think, has struggled to exist in this modern era.”
Ariana Snowdon, 36, who grew up in Jackson Hole, shares fond memories of performing at the Pink Garter. More recently, she has appeared in Munz’s on-stage and video creations.
“The fact that it’s been dark so long has been really sad,” she said. “I’ve known Andy for years, and this is the opportunity that he’s been waiting and fighting for. We’ve all been missing a space for locals to create; Tumbleweed Creative Arts is going to be truly unique.”
Modern entertainment model
In developing the nonprofit, Munz is taking an unorthodox tack by eschewing the traditional model of donors receiving tickets or preferential seating at certain events. “It’s not about what you get out of your financial contribution,” he said. “You’re contributing to a cause, to an opportunity where local artists don’t have a problem taking off work to be a part of a show. They’re actually being compensated for being here.”
Board member Meggan Stordahl is enthusiastic about the opportunities the reinvigorated theater will provide. “People will be encouraged to join the process at any stage — from those with little knowledge but a desire to try new things, to people with a wealth of experience willing to share and contribute,” she said.
Jackson Hole is home to over 200 nonprofits, according to the Chamber of Commerce. And it already has multiple performing arts organizations. Munz is clear: he’s not here to compete or replace any of the established groups. Instead, he looks forward to collaborating with other groups and enhancing community connections.
For now, Munz is focused on bringing together the final installment of “I Can Ski Forever” that will run the weekends of May 4th and 11th. He’s already assembled a team to work on everything from choreography to sets and costume design.
Munz said he’ll utilize income from his show’s ticket sales to invest in the theater’s renovation; the lights and sound equipment alone will likely cost around $10,000. He intends to expand Tumbleweed Creative Arts’ board, cultivate a donor base, develop plans to showcase performances with other nonprofits and design educational outreach programs.
From where Munz sits, the possibilities for the Pink Garter’s reincarnation are practically endless.
“I don’t want this to become another standard theater,” Munz said, “but instead a beautiful deep space that is gorgeous and so flexible. So many different kinds of things can happen, right?”