Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival: Comfy new seats await audiences


BECKET -- Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival has a new attraction this season. It'snot on any of its stages but should prove a big hit with festival audiences nevertheless:

New seats in the 617-seat Ted Shawn Theatre and the 216-seat Doris Duke Theatre.

The seats are funded through a $1 million challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation, which anchors the Pillow's three-year $2 million capital campaign, Name a Seat, Sustain a Landmark, which wraps up in September.

The Kresge Foundation's $1 million grant includes $350,000 for current facility needs and $650,000 to establish a cash reserve to support future facility repairs.

According to Pillow officials, Name a Seat, Sustain a Landmark will enable the dance festival to implement long-needed improvements to its theaters and residential buildings and seed a facility reserve designed to address long-term maintenance issues.

The seats were designed specifically for each theater, according to Norton Owen, the Pillow's director of preservation.

"The Shawn seats are quite beautiful and extremely comfortable," Owen said in an interview. "The biggest difference is that the seat backs are fully upholstered, in a deep blue color coordinated with the stage curtain, rather than the hard wood backs of the past."

But the back sides of the seats are still wood, he added, "so that the view from the rear, and as you enter the theater is even more beautiful than before. And they are a bit higher than the old seats, making them easier to get into and out of."

In the Doris Duke Theatre, padded seats with armrests have replaced the original hard stacking chairs.

Owen said the seat risers are a state-of-the-art telescopic system that allows the entire seating apparatus to collapse against the theater's back wall, permitting quicker changeovers between company engagements and enabling faster changeovers for rehearsals, classes, and technical production needs.

The seats come from Connecticut-based American Seating and Illinois-based Irwin Telescopic Seating Company.

The public gets its first glimpse of the new Shawn Theatre seats at tonight's season-opening gala. Pillow members saw them at the Pillow's June 9 Member Appreciation Film Event.

Thirty descendants and family members of Joseph Franz, the architect of the Ted Shawn theater, were also present.

The Duke seats will be sampled by the public for the first time on June 26 when LEO, a one-man show from Berlin, opens.

Other long-needed facility improvements funded by the Name a Seat, Sustain a Landmark campaign include:

n remodeling the Doris Duke Theatre's backstage, providing two new dressing rooms, two additional bathrooms each with multiple showers, and a lounge area where artists can relax and greet visitors;

n tightening the Ted Shawn Theatre building envelope and applying new siding, while preserving the New England barn vernacular;

n rebuilding, expanding and winterizing one of the Pillow's older residential cabins, Baba Yaga (1933), and moving it to a new foundation to meet Town of Becket zoning requirements.

Works-in-progress include two more residential cabin projects to increase housing capacity for artists and seasonal staff.

"The Kresge Foundation has given us an extraordinary opportunity to improve the quality of our theaters and ensure their long-term maintenance," Jacob's Pillow executive director Ella Baff said in a news release. "This opportunity also carries a big challenge in meeting the grant match.

"Every single person who contributes to matching this grant is helping to sustain the Pillow and bring dance to the hundreds of thousands of people every year. We appreciate this kind of support in every way, and thank everyone who has and will help us reach our goal."


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