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Jacob's Pillow Plans Festival 2021, Theater Renovations
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
10:16AM / Wednesday, March 17, 2021
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Flansburgh Architects' rendering of what the renovated $8 million Ted Shawn Theatre will look like.

BECKET, Mass. — After a year of pandemic struggles and a devastating fire, Jacob's Pillow is looking at a bright horizon in 2021.

The year 2020 saw the Pillow's first season cancellation in 88 years and ended in tragedy when the Doris Duke Theatre burned down in November.

"Sometimes I think it was a physical manifestation of everything people in our field were feeling," Executive and Artistic Director Pamela Tatge said in regard to the fire.

"In other words, so many people in the arts ecology, both artists and workers lost their work, lost their livelihoods, we canceled the performances by 15 companies last summer. So, to have the fire, destroy a place that has meant so much to so many people for three decades, was a huge blow."

Last week, the organization announced plans for Festival 2021, an $8 million Ted Shawn Theatre renovation, an intent to rebuild the Doris Duke Theatre, and a "Dance We Must" campaign to fund the completion of a five-year plan.

Festival 2020 had pivoted to a virtual event that reportedly drew thousands of people who had never experienced the Pillow's programming. Some 80 percent of virtual attendees were new to the Pillow, Tatge said, and that has inspired them to build on the pre-existing digital platform.

"That really gave us a sense of how important digital engagement is if we want to grow our audience," she added. "This was really a wonderful eye-opening experience so in our minds we knew that this summer we would do whatever we could do in terms of an in-person festival that would be safe for artists and audiences, while at the same time continuing or digital work."

Beginning in October and running through May, the Pillow created bubble artist residences under the advisory of a medical director so that dancers could continue their craft as normally as possible. Tatge explained that through testing, strict protocols, and financial support this was able to happen.

Though official artist and performance details will be announced in April, they are "committed to presenting a multiplatform dance festival in summer 2021 featuring in person, outdoor performances from leading dance artists across genres and virtual streaming of their work."

COVID-19 protocols will be included with the announcement of Festival 2021 based on the recommendations of medical professionals and in accordance with nation guidelines and state regulations.

The Ted Shawn Theatre was built in 1942 and was America's first performance space designed specifically for dance. Upgrades have been in the works since 2018, but Tatge said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a well-ventilated and air-conditioned theater in order for guests to feel safe.

Renovations will include a new eco-friendly ice-chilled air conditioning and ventilation system, upgrades to backstage and in performance space, accessibility and sustainability improvements, and a maintenance room to host the new air systems.

Tatge said that while the pandemic has some effect on the organization's five-year strategic plan Vision '22, work was able to continue on the core ethics of the plan, which is supporting artists to create new work and community engagement.

Vision '22, established in 2017, puts an emphasis on three new goals: strengthening the Pillow's artistic core, boosting civic leadership and community engagement, and renewing campus facilities.  Within each of these is a determination to strengthen inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and environmental sustainability.

Jacob's Pillow has raised $20 million of the $22 million needed to complete the plan, and Tatge said it is important to raise the remaining $2 million. It also launched a public "Dance We Must" fundraising campaign last week with a goal of raising that sum by April 2022, in advance of the 90th anniversary Festival.

Plans for the new Doris Duke Theatre will be announced in the fall, but the Pillow has just completed a research study that asked what audience members, community members, and artists loved about the previous space and what they need from a theater in the 21st century.

"Having a theater that is nimble, flexible, you know, intimate is is necessary in the total ecology of what is present to a Jacob's Pillow," Tatge said.

This feedback will drive planning for the theater's new design and officials are now focused on identifying the project's architect and moving forward with designs.

"The Pillow has endured, despite experiencing the toughest year in our history with the cancellation of Festival 2020 and the tragic loss of the Doris Duke Theatre. We put these losses in the context of all of the tragedy our country, and the world, has experienced this past year," Tatge said in a press release.

"Back in 2017, we set ambitious goals for the future and the evolution of Jacob's Pillow. We have had extraordinary momentum thanks to the generosity of our board and the many donors who understand the importance of investing in dance and artists. There is still so much to do, but with the support of our community — everyone who knows and loves the Pillow — I'm confident that we will complete the final chapter of our plan, the Ted Shawn Theatre renovation, in time for our 90th Anniversary in 2022."

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