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New England News

Jacob’s Pillow Director Says Dance Center Will Rebuild After Theatre Fire

Fire fighters and a fire truck are in front of a burning wooden building
Monterey Fire Department
A photo by the Monterey Fire Department of the fire at the Doris Duke Theater on the campus of Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts on November 17th, 2020.

Tuesday morning, the 216-seat Doris Duke Theatre on the campus of Jacob’s Pillow dance center in Becket, Massachusetts burned to the ground. The cause of the six-alarm fire has yet to be determined and the state fire marshal is investigating. Executive and Artistic Director Pamela Tatge tells WAMC that Jacob’s Pillow plans to rebuild in the wake of yet another challenge after COVID-19 forced the dance center to cancel its summer festival for the first time in its 88-year history.

TATGE: Those of us who watched it burn or smolder, it's a huge loss for Jacob's Pillow. It's, it's such a special place for so many artists and audiences. And it had a 30 year run, so it seems so short in our 88-year-old life to have a theater for only 30 years. And yes, that's, that's what happened. Today, you know, the snow has fallen, the sun is out. The site is, you know- The land has taken itself back. And it's very curious to see this campus, the landscape, without that magnificent building.

WAMC: What does this mean looking forward for programming at Jacob's Pillow? That was one of only two indoor theatres on the site. So structurally speaking, what happens next for the community?

Well, we had an emergency board meeting yesterday and we are in discussions. We will rebuild. The idea of having a more intimate space, a black box space- The theatre has 200 seats or had 200 seats and the seating can be arranged in any configuration. It can be in the round, in a more traditional proscenium. It's wonderful for interdisciplinary, immersive work. And so we need that space. So we will be rebuilding a theater and making plans for that just as soon as we can. We, of course, are, had been in the throes of thinking about what we can do in the summer of 2021 and are planning, already have planned a festival, are in the midst of planning a festival for next summer that will lean into our outdoors. We have such magnificent places to dance on this campus in the outdoors. So we will have- At this point, we're planning socially distant performances, and other programming, other programs. And you know, that's it. We are in the thick of thinking about what's next, but definitely still reeling a bit from the shock.

What are some highlights from the 30-year history of the Doris Duke Theatre that comes to mind looking back on its run out Jacob's Pillow?

You know, right now on Instagram and Facebook so many artists and companies have been posting footage, memories. And it'd be very difficult for me to single out who has been there but you know, I can just list some names from Mark Morris and Yo-Yo Ma to Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown. Crystal Pite’s “Dark Matters” is a work that sticks out for many, many audiences. For me, in the past four years, I've just had the opportunity to present glorious work there like Reggie Wilson / Fist and Heels Power that was done in collaboration with Hancock Shaker Village. That was just in the summer of 2019. I mean, there's too many to mention. And, you know, it's the it's the theatre that that his was accessible in terms of having ticket prices that were less expensive than the Ted Shawn Theatre, so it was a point of entry for many people. And it will be so missed. But it's, you know, what is amazing is the memories and the experiences lives on in people. And thank goodness for Jacob's Pillow. Its archives are so important. Every single production that was performed in the Doris Duke Theatre was recorded. We have those records, and so anyone can always have access to the magnificent work that was made there. At least on film.

2020 has been unthinkable for so many reasons, including the first ever cancellation of Jacob's Pillow’s Summer Festival. What does this add to the tone of the year to have this devastating and very abrupt loss on top of that interruption?

Well, it's a test of our resilience and ability to adapt. You know, I feel so strongly that this board and staff pivoted mightily when we had to cancel the festival to put on a virtual festival that reached thousands of people, many new people who've never had access to Jacob's Pillow before. We have managed this fall to welcome companies back to the Pillow with COVID compliant bubble residencies where dancers can dance safely again. So we now have this new factor in in our future planning, but this land, the spirit of this place is so generative and gives people such strength. I have no doubt we will go into 21 with strength and resilience. And it's been a tough year but we'll get through it because we have to. We are the beacon of our dance field. We are the Mecca, the sanctuary for so many artists and audiences and our communities need us. So we will be there.

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