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After Fire, COVID, Jacob’s Pillow Faces Funding Gap Going Into 2021

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.

Last month, the Berkshire arts community was shocked by the sudden fire that incinerated the Doris Duke Theatre on the campus of Becket, Massachusetts dance center Jacob’s Pillow. WAMC checked in with Executive and Artistic Director Pamela Tatge about how the Pillow is recovering, its plans for 2021, and the investigation into the fire.

TATGE: It was a shock, and there was all sorts of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, and the future, and this happened. And I would say that this team of board and staff just kept moving forward. This could have been a time that stopped us in our, in our step, whatever that expression is- stopped us cold. But we we've kept moving up mostly because of the extraordinary outpouring and love and support from people all around the world sharing their memories, their, just, belief in Jacob's Pillow that we will get through this. So it's been it's been a time of much planning, and much as sort of grieving for that space and then receiving all of the support that we've gotten.

WAMC: Have you heard anything new from the state concerning the investigation into the fire itself?

We have not, we expect to have information early in the new year.

Now, looking into the new year, what's in store for Jacob's Pillow? Obviously, you've already pivoted due to the pandemic. Now with this new loss, I imagine it's going to keep making some sort of adaptations to you expectations for the new year. What's on the docket right now?

Well, we are actively planning for a festival next summer. We are going to be leaning into the fact that we have magnificent sites outdoors to perform. And we are creating protocols for artists, audiences, staff members so that we can bring people back for live performance again in socially distant safe ways. That, then, it's exciting to speak with artists about possibilities about how to use our site, in particular, the Inside/Out Stage, which is the most glorious place to witness dance, I think and, and so we're so lucky that we have it. And also other ways to activate the campus with performance: Our school is moving forward with a hybrid of in-person training and also on an online program, and all of that information was just put on our website recently. We have programs in ballet, contemporary, and tap next summer. So that's been exciting. And then of course, we've been having the initial conversations about rebuilding the theater and and what kind of a theater we want for the 21st century that will have all of the warmth and character of the theater that we grew to know and love over 30 years.

In these early conversations, are you getting a sense of what kind of new space the staff and performers and community around the pillow would like to see in a new space?

We've just set up the framework for doing our research for having focus groups with audience members, with artists, with board members, and also with people who are working at the vanguard of performance, to say, what what does the 21st century theater need to contain in addition to a number of ideas we have, so we're just at the early stages.

What's fundraising for the Pillow been like in the wake of the fire?

People are definitely giving in honor of the Duke and wanting to help the Pillow through this time. I would say equally as important as the contributions have been the the stories, the memories, either of their first performance at the Doris Duke Theatre or an audience member's memory of a of a performance that changed them. So this is a year where we have a big gap between this year and planning for next year when, because of socially distant performances, we're not going to have the earned revenue potential that we usually have. So we need support from our our family of donors and also people who just love dance and want to see this national treasure that is Jacob's Pillow get through this period.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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