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New Jacob's Pillow theater to empower artists to be 'audacious and bonker balls'

Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts has unveiled the design of a new building to replace the Doris Duke Theater, which was destroyed in a fire in November 2020.

The Doris Duke first opened in 1990.

"It was the very embodiment of dance history," said Sydney Skybetter, a Brown University professor of choreography and robotics, who was an advisor on the plans for the new Doris Duke.

Pamela Tatgei, the executive and artistic director of Jacob's Pillow, said the new design is "grounded in Indigenous values," pointing out that it's on the homelands of the Stockbridge - Munsee Nation.

The design is connected to the natural environment.

"We've asked that this building be entirely flexible so that it can be used in multiple configurations so that there is a blurring between the indoors and the outdoors," Tatgei said.

There is also a focus on accessibility.

Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Mass. before the Nov. 2020 fire.
Christopher Duggan
Jacob's Pillow
Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Mass. before the Nov. 2020 fire.

"We will have the capacity to do audio description. We will have new siting for people in wheelchairs. In the past, they all had to be only sitting in the front. What about someone who prefers to see dance from the back, which many people do," she said.

The new Doris Duke will accommodate technology that can be integrated into choreography, including large, heavy robots.

"What we found is that by making the space accessible for robots, we're actually making it more accessible for people," said Skybetter.

Skybetter hopes the new theater will support artists so they can experiment with all kinds of technology, including ones that allow a performance to happen in multiple sites simultaneously or that could generate "live" animation or virtual reality.

"The artists are the folks who will ultimately determine what the dance of the future looks like," Skybetter said. "And this new space is an attempt to honor that, but also to empower artists to be as audacious and bonker balls as possible."

The Pillow hopes to start construction on the new building next year, which is expected to cost $30 million. The group is still raising funds to complete the project.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.