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Jacob’s Pillow receives largest grant in its history to build reimagined Doris Duke Theatre

A photo of the original Doris Duke Theatre, taken in 2011.Cherylynn Tsushima

Jacob’s Pillow, the Berkshires dance hub known for hosting the country’s longest-running international dance festival, announced plans Thursday to build a reimagined Doris Duke Theatre to replace the theater of the same name that burned down in 2020.

Jacob’s Pillow received a $10 million gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to fund the new building, which will be designed to retain the intimacy the original 216-seat theater was known for and provide artists access to cutting-edge technology.

The original Doris Duke Theatre opened in 1990 and offered a small black box alternative to the Pillow’s larger Ted Shawn Theatre. The Pillow recently completed a yearlong $8 million renovation to the Ted Shawn, reopening it in June for this year’s summer festival.

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Sam Gill, CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said in a press release that “a new, world class, digitally-driven Doris Duke Theatre will ensure Jacob’s Pillow stays at the cutting-edge in the decades to come.” The foundation’s grant is the largest Jacob’s Pillow has received in its 90-year history.

Pamela Tatge, executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow, said in an interview that the new building will be designed to accommodate dance-tech collaborations. A “digital-spatial audio system” that’s motion sensitive will allow dancers to queue audio as they move through the space. A video control suite will make it possible to record and stream performances in the theater, she said.

“This very much came out of the pandemic; we discovered thousands of people around the world who wanted to have access to the work at Jacob’s Pillow, but probably would never get to Becket, Massachusetts,” Tatge said. She added that during the pandemic, “we saw dance artists really working innovatively with technology and creating works that are native to the digital realm — we want to support that work.”

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The Netherlands-based architecture firm Mecanoo has been chosen to design the new space; and two Indigenous artists, Heather Bruegl (Oneida/Stockbridge-Munsee) and Jeffrey Gibson (Choctaw/Cherokee) have been brought on as consultants to the project. The new theater will occupy the same site as the original, on ancestral lands of the Mohican peoples (now known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community). According to Tatge, the Pillow required all design teams they interviewed for the new theater to have an Indigenous artist as part of their team.

“Our identity is wrapped up with our connection to nature; there is no other place to see dance in a world that is so immersed in a natural environment,” Tatge said. “Therefore we have an exceptional responsibility to the environment and to the land that gives us this energy; it’s for that reason that we began a journey to truly connect with Indigenous peoples in our region in 2019, and made a commitment then to feature Indigenous work in every future festival.”

The total cost of the new theater is projected to be roughly $30 million. The Pillow has also received a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund to support the design phase of the project.


Joy Ashford can be reached at joy.ashford@globe.com. Follow them on Twitter @joy_ashford.