Since 1933, national and international dance companies have gathered at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket for performances, talks, and tours.  

Like many cultural institutions in the Berkshires, the Pillow was forced to cancel its summer season last year –  and to make matters worse, the Pillow lost one of their theaters to a fire in November 2020.  

But, what’s in store this year for the Berkshire cultural institution? Producer Dave Fraser talked with Jacobs Pillow’s Executive Director Pamela Tatge to learn more about the 2021 season and get her thoughts on last year.  

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Since 1933, national and international dance companies have gathered at world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow in Becket for performances, talks, and tours.

Like many cultural institutions in the Berkshires, the Pillow was forced to cancel its summer season last year. And to make matters worse, this past November, they lost one of their theaters to a fire.

What’s in store for this year? Producer Dave Fraser talks with Jacobs Pillow’s executive director to learn more and reflect back on last year.

Pamela Tatge, Jacob’s Pillow Executive Director: Our values, who we are, was tested this year. And it’s through times of crisis that you learn about the people that you work with.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Even by the standards of 2020, Jacob’s Pillow had a tough year. Not only was the dance center in Becket forced to cancel its annual summer festival for the first time in its history, but last November it lost one of its indoor theaters, The Doris Duke, to a fire.

Pamela Tatge: It was a tragedy. It was — it was so final. There was no going back. We had firefighters from six different towns who converged here, to slow the fire. Not a single ember, you know, drifted. We could have lost so much more.

Dave Fraser: For over 80 years, people have descended on this 200-plus acre wooded campus tucked away off Route 20 in the hills of Becket. They come to see the best the dance world has to offer.

National and international companies perform here nightly during the summer months. The Pillow stands high on a tall list in the Berkshires.

Pamela Tatge: We were founded in 1933 by Ted Shawn, who had this idea that he was pioneering new ideas in dance, wanting to sort of think more broadly about what dance could be in our world. And he wanted a retreat, a place where in particular men dancers could realize themselves.

We are a place where the country and the world comes to think about dance, to see dance, to meet, and have had a really important place in dance history.

Dave Fraser: Part of that history was the Doris Duke Theater, one of three primary spaces at the Pillow. Plans are already underway to rebuild the lost theater.

Pamela Tatge: We have the opportunity to now think about a structure, a theater for the 21st century. What does that theater need? How can we make it be a theater that is accessible, that is a place where people want to go, that might actually help us attract new audiences?

Dave Fraser: The Pillow’s other indoor theater, the Ted Shawn, is currently in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation. The history of those who performed at the Shawn is literally written on the walls of the dressing room.

But theatrical technology has transformed over the years, and audiences expect more comfort than a theater built 78 years ago can provide.

Pamela Tatge: The Ted Shawn Theater is the flagship American dance theater. It was the first structure built specifically for dance. And it is is tired.

So, we’ve taken advantage of this to to take the Shawn off line between now and the summer of’22, which is next year, our 90th anniversary. And we’re doing a complete renovation of the stage area. It will be deeper, wider, higher, reinforced, and most importantly, we will have air conditioning and ventilation.

Dave Fraser: The cancellation of last year’s festival also meant cutbacks and layoffs. But the Pillow, in support of its mission to enhance and deepen people’s appreciation and support of dance, pivoted to its digital platform in ways it had never done before, offering workshops, dance performances, and talks with dance scholars.

Pamela Tatge: Thirty eight events in eight weeks, and we were able to reach thousands of audiences. And I think everyone is saying this is the silver lining about this time, that we are giving access to these incredible institutions that everyone’s heard of but maybe never been able to get to before.

Dave Fraser: So, needless to say, 2021 is off to a brighter start at Jacob’s Pillow, as plans for this year’s festival were announced last month. They include in-person events on the Pillow’s outdoor stage, as well as site-specific works that will unfold throughout the campus.

Pamela Tatge: It’s a very generative place. I use that word a lot. We feel a sense of retreat.

People have called it a refuge, a sanctuary. And I think it’s because all of the spirits of everyone who’s been here before, join you when you when you arrive and you have the feeling of the history that’s taken place here.