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Jacob's Pillow 'Absolutely' Will Rebuild After 'Devastating' Fire

A fire destroyed an important dance performance theater at Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts, Tuesday morning.

The state fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the fire, along with local fire and police departments.

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 Theatre building, Bacon said the fire was awful.

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

According to Jacob's Pillow, the fire "was contained to the theater" and the building went very quickly.

The Doris Duke, with its barn-like design, opened in 1990. It’s the smaller of two indoor theaters at the venue, a flexible space with a wall in the back that could open to the woods.

Jacob’s Pillow had to cancel its summer festival because of the pandemic, but more recently it hosted artists who worked in COVID-compliant pods. One company was in the theater the day before the fire, according to artistic and executive director Pamela Tatge.

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

Choreographer Kyle Abraham, who is on the Pillow’s board of trustees, was creating new work in the Doris Duke Theatre as recently as the end of October. He described 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,” he said, “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 Jacob’s Pillow 19 times. He said the fire is painful, in part because of the historical significance the Pillow has played in supporting modern dancers.

“I felt it right in my heart, right in my sternum,” he said. “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 said the world needs art right now — and spaces for artists to create, inspire and uplift. For now, he said, there's one less space.

But Tatge said Jacob’s Pillow “absolutely” will rebuild the theater.

Kari Njiiri contributed.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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