It had already been a tough year for Berkshire cultural venues since the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to shut down this summer. But it got even tougher for Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival on Tuesday when an early morning fire destroyed the Doris Duke Theatre at the venue’s campus on George Carter Road in Becket.
When firefighters arrived, the blaze had already taken hold of one side of the 230-seat, 30-year-old wood structure. As many as 30 firefighters were on scene, and despite their efforts, fire had claimed nearly the entire structure.
The state Department of Fire Services has confirmed there were problems with a fire-suppression system at Jacob’s Pillow, but the blaze was so intense that some firefighters said it sounded like a tornado had ripped through the building. “It looked like what a bomb must look like when it goes off,” Jacob’s Pillow’s Executive Director Pamela Tatge told the New York Times. As of Wednesday, the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.
Considering the toll that the pandemic had wrought upon the venue’s operations earlier this year, losing the theater now is a blow to the Pillow, the world-renowned center of dance, performance, choreography and education that was founded by modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn in 1933.
But Tatge has already vowed to rebuild it.
“The theater is an essential part of Jacob’s Pillow,” she told the New York Times.
Several Berkshire cultural organizations, including the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Clark Art Institute, have expressed their condolences. Both Barrington Stage Company and Berkshire Theatre Group are already asking their supporters to consider donations to the Pillow. In a Facebook post, Barrington Stage has asked supporters to donate to a “rescue fund” that is being set up to help Jacob’s Pillow “in their time of extreme need.”
Comments have also been flooding in from dance aficionados from around the country and world (from as far away as a dance company based in New Zealand). U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren also weighed in: “Bruce [her husband] and I always look forward to the world-famous Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival,” Warren stated via Twitter. “It’s a Western Mass. treasure that has already been hit hard from this pandemic. My heart goes out to the Jacob’s Pillow staff and the town of Becket for this tragic loss.”
It’s nice to know that so many people are already willing to help. Given its 30-year history, the Doris Duke Theatre is probably irreplaceable. But maybe this outpouring of support will allow the board of directors to rebuild better. That is a comforting thought.