If Vicki Garnick had a personal motto, it would come from “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a musical she produced at the Jackson Hole Playhouse. The song “I Ain’t Down Yet” summarizes the long road she and her family business have taken over the last 40 years.
The Jackson Hole Playhouse, built in 1915, is the oldest framed building in Jackson. “It has a spirit that thrives and lives,” said Garnick.
Since 1980, that spirit has been intertwined with Garnick and her family. She was born in Kansas but grew up in Utah. She visited Jackson for the first time in the early 1970s, when, as a young actress, she came to perform in “Oklahoma.”
It was through theater that she met her husband, Cameron Garnick, when the two were in a production of “West Side Story” together in Utah. They eloped in Las Vegas and, while driving home, Vicki wrote in her journal their two big dreams: to one day own a ranch and a theater.
The Garnicks bought Brooks Lake Lodge in 1978 and two years later were offered a chance to run the Jackson Hole Playhouse—if they could come up with thousands of dollars immediately. To help raise funds, Garnick loaded up all the alcohol from the bar at Brooks Lake Lodge and tried to sell it in Jackson. She didn’t realize she was bootlegging until she tried to sell to a member of the liquor commission. He bought all her liquor for $8,000 and informed her what she was doing was illegal. But they had the money and the theater.
The theater quickly became the family business. All eight of the Garnick children, now ranging in age from 21 to 39 years old, performed on the stage. “Our family is a part of that theater’s history now,” Garnick says.
But they still didn’t actually own the building. In the 2000s, Jackson’s
real estate market exploded and Garnick realized with the next sale they might lose the Playhouse. Fittingly, they were performing “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in 2006 when they were able to scrape together enough money for a last-minute deal to purchase the building.
A year later, Cameron died suddenly and then the recession hit. “I didn’t know how we could hang on, but we did,” she says.
Today, Garnick is looking to the future. In addition to putting on “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” this summer, she plans to eventually remodel the building and add art studios and classrooms. Her ultimate goal is to always have a place to produce theater in Jackson and a place for her kids to come home to.
“I pray and I push and I have a dream for her future,” Garnick says. “My hope is she will live on and on.”