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Fire destroys Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires

Monterey firefighters help battled a structure fire at Jacob's Pillow in the Town of BecketMonterey Fire Department/Facebook

Fire destroyed a theater Tuesday morning at Jacob’s Pillow, a National Historic Landmark in the Berkshires that hosts the country’s longest-running international dance festival.

Firefighters arrived at the complex in Becket around 7 a.m. as flames engulfed the Doris Duke Theatre, the smaller of two indoor theaters on the 220-acre campus.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. No injuries were reported, and the blaze did not spread to other buildings, but damage to the theater was complete.

Pamela Tatge, artistic and executive director for Jacob’s Pillow, said she was in shock when she learned the theater was burning.


“I knew the fire was bad, but by the time I got to the Pillow the theater was lost,” said Tatge, who drove up from Connecticut. “It went in probably under two hours.”

She praised the fire crews: “What they did was remarkable in terms of isolating the spread.”

Chief Shawn Tryon of the Monterey Fire Company described the damage as “pretty much a total loss.”

A dispatcher who answered the phone for the Becket Fire Department said crews were still at the scene Tuesday afternoon, but declined to provide any further information.

Michael Lavery, the Becket Select Board’s vice chair, told WAMC it was a six-alarm fire involving firefighters from six towns.

“The fire was put out shortly before 9 a.m.,” he said, “but it was a total loss of the one building.”

The 216-seat Doris Duke Theatre, which opened in 1990, offered a smaller, more intimate experience than the organization’s larger Ted Shawn Theatre. The wooden, barnlike structure also offered flexible seating, providing a venue where companies could take artistic risks without the pressure of having to fill a large house.

“It allowed for powerful, visceral experiences with art," said Tatge, who added that the building was insured. “It was a place where many companies made their debuts at the Pillow.”


Michael Novak, artistic director of New York City’s Paul Taylor Dance Company, described the wrecked theater as an “unimaginable loss.”

“Jacob’s Pillow is a sacred space in our industry, where the earliest dance pioneers honed their creative voices and influenced generations of artists and dance makers,” Novak said in a statement to the Globe. “It remains a place of warmth and solace to choreographers and companies fighting to create through unimaginable circumstances.”

The loss caps a difficult year for Jacob’s Pillow, which was forced to cancel its summer festival in light of the pandemic, a first in the organization’s 88-year history.

Recently, however, the campus reopened on a limited basis to choreographers and dancers who needed space to work on new performances.

Kyle Abraham, artistic director of Brooklyn-based A.I.M., said his dance troupe had recently returned from an artistic stay at Jacob’s Pillow.

“My heart is breaking . . . we were all shocked and devastated to hear the news,” Abraham said via e-mail. He called the Doris Duke Theatre "a space that held the history of so many dancers and dance makers I idolize.

Tatge said Jacob’s Pillow, like many pther arts organizations, was already reckoning with the year’s financial losses as well as questions of racial and social equality. .

“We’re doing a lot of rebuilding here,” she said. “But because we are in a place of reimagining, we’ll be back better in some ways, because we’ll have time to think about a new theater in the context of all these other factors.”


The organization, she said, was already deep in the process of planning next summer’s festival.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of support and love,” she said. “We’re going to have a tough road ahead, but because the field needs us to be the beacon that we are, we will rebuild.”

Malcolm Gay can be reached at Follow him @malcolmgay. Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.