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Theater At Jacob's Pillow Destroyed In Fire

Firefighters working to put out the fire at Jacob's Pillow. (Courtesy Monterey Fire Department/Facebook)
Firefighters working to put out the fire at Jacob's Pillow. (Courtesy Monterey Fire Department/Facebook)

On Tuesday morning, a fire destroyed a theater at Jacob’s Pillow, the site of the nation’s longest-running dance festival, located in Becket, Mass.

According to reporting from Heather Bellow at The Berkshire Eagle, the fire started around 7 a.m. at the Doris Duke Theatre, one of two indoor theaters on the property. The fire was contained to the Doris Duke Theatre and did not spread to other buildings.

“The fire was a six alarm fire, and six towns including Monterey were involved,” Becket select board vice chair Michael Lavery told WAMC. “It was a total loss of the one building.”

The Monterey Fire Department posted a photo of the blaze on Facebook stating they were on the scene.

Linda Bacon runs a bed and breakfast in Becket which hosts many guests who visit Jacob’s Pillow. Standing near the remains of the Doris Duke Theater building, Bacon says it’s awful.

“I’m seeing just one or two walls that are still up, but a lot of smoke…I think it’s devastating and I mean, it’s totally destroyed the Doris Duke.”

The cause of the fire has not yet been announced.

“While we have lost some precious, irreplaceable items, those experiences and memories will last forever. We are heartbroken and we are relieved that no one was hurt,” Pamela Tatge, Jacob’s Pillow artistic and executive director, said in a statement. “We will rebuild.”

American choreographer Ted Shawn bought the 220 acres of land Jacob’s Pillow sits on in 1931. He established a dance company of male dancers in 1933, and that year they hosted their first performance on the property. Shawn’s students included dance luminaries like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, both of whom helped to cement Jacob’s Pillow as a vital part of the dance world. Each year more than 50 dance companies participate in the annual festival.

The Doris Duke Theatre opened in 1990. It was designed as a less formal counterpart to the Ted Shawn Theatre, which was built in the 1940s.

Jacob’s Pillow had to cancel its summer festival for the pandemic, but more recently it hosted artists, who worked in COVID-compliant pods. One company was in the theatre the day before the fire, according to Tatge.

“And and so we’re just so, so happy that no one was hurt. And this didn’t happen when people were there,” she said.

Choreographer Kyle Abraham, who is on the board of trustees, was creating new work in the Doris Duke Theater as recently as the end of October. He describes it as a space so inspiring that he and his collaborator generated several new pieces.

“Most times a choreographer is working solely on one piece at a time and there’s something about that space that lends itself to creation.”

Michael Novak is Artistic Director of the Paul Taylor Dance Company in New York, which has performed at the Pillow 19 times. He says the fire is painful, in part because of the historical significance Jacob’s Pillow has played in supporting modern dancers.

“I felt it right in my heart, right in my sternum, like it, and…there’s something almost sacred about what that space does and has done and what it’s been fighting to do. It’s exceedingly painful.”

Novak says the world needs art right now–and spaces for artists to create, inspire and uplift. For now he says, there’s one less space. But Tatge said they “absolutely” will rebuild.

Reporting from New England Public Media was used in this report.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 WBUR

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