Updated Wednesday, February 17, 2021
The origin and cause of the fire at Jacob’s Pillow’s Doris Duke Theatre on November 17, 2020 was ruled undetermined by the Massachusetts State Police Fire Investigation led by Officer Daniel B. Quigley. Catastrophic damage of the site resulted in limited scene examination. The report, delivered to Jacob’s Pillow on February 12, indicated that the fire is believed to have originated in the southeast corner of the building where a vast amount of the building’s theatrical electrical equipment was located, including professional lighting and audio systems.
“We are tremendously grateful to the firefighters and state officials for their work on this investigation,” says Jacob’s Pillow Executive & Artistic Director Pamela Tatge. “We take stewardship of this landmark very seriously; in light of this tragedy, we are undertaking an organization-wide risk assessment, interrogating our internal emergency procedures, and redoubling our efforts to ensure the safety of our entire campus. We continually reflect on how fortunate we are that no one was injured and the fire did not spread.”
The Doris Duke Theatre, built in 1990 as one of three primary performance spaces on Jacob’s Pillow’s 220-acre campus in Western Massachusetts, was lost to a structure fire the morning of November 17, 2020 beginning around 5am EST. The fire was contained to the building; no one was injured and no other buildings suffered damage. Firefighters from Becket Fire Department and surrounding towns responded to the call from an eyewitness just before 7am and arrived on the scene shortly thereafter.
The Massachusetts State Police Fire Investigation concluded that the theater’s sprinkler suppression system was inoperable or limited in its capabilities at the time of the fire and that a malfunction in the pump system failed to properly supply water to the sprinkler system and nearby hydrant. These issues slowed fire suppression efforts. There was no evidence of an incendiary act. Pending any new information, the case is considered closed.
Immediately following the incident, Jacob’s Pillow initiated an internal site-wide safety audit, confirming reliability of all alarm and fire suppression systems and to better understand any further weakness to the safety and security of every building on its campus. In addition, the Pillow has engaged an outside risk management professional to further identify potential problems and has released a request for proposal (RFP) for an upgrade to its current fire-pump system.
In the aftermath of the fire, Jacob’s Pillow received a tremendous outpouring of support from artists and audiences around the world. The Pillow was able to commit to move several of its on-site, COVID-compliant residences for dance companies that had been scheduled in the theater between December through May into The Perles Family Studio, the other year-round rehearsal space on campus. Jacob’s Pillow is at the early stages of planning to rebuild the Doris Duke Theatre and has hired an external consultant to conduct interviews with artists, technicians, and audiences members as initial research.
“Our hope is to build a theater that has all of the warmth and character of the Doris Duke Theatre while providing for the needs of artists and audiences in the 21st century,” says Tatge.
This page will be updated as more information becomes available.
Donations can also be made by texting REBUILDDUKE to 51555.
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
We are recovering from the loss of our beloved Doris Duke Theatre. It is an extremely devastating week in what has been a challenging year for our institution.
Jacob’s Pillow is a beacon for all in the world who love dance. This magnificent site is grounded in history, surrounded by all of the spirits of dance who hold us, and buoyed by all of the artists, former staff members, members and audiences who have been sending their love and support. The Board, staff, and community surrounding Jacob’s Pillow will work to recover and rebuild.
The outpouring of joyous memories of experiences in the Doris Duke Theatre have inspired us during this difficult time. We invite you to continue sharing your stories, photos, and videos with us.
We lost a valuable part of the Pillow this week, but of this we are sure: Jacob’s Pillow will continue—this week, next month, next year, and in the future to come.
So many people have reached out directly asking how they can help. They know that this tragedy occurred in the same year that Jacob’s Pillow cancelled its Festival for the first time in our 88-year history due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a 50% loss of our annual income.
If you’re looking for a way to support the Pillow’s future during this challenging time, please consider donating. We need your support to ensure that we will continue to be the crossroads of dance that our communities need us to be.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
With great sadness, we must share the news that on the morning of November 17 there was a fire on the Jacob’s Pillow campus in Becket, MA. Firefighters arrived around 7 a.m. and remained on campus until midday.
While the entire Doris Duke Theatre has been lost, the fire did not spread to any of the other buildings on the Jacob’s Pillow grounds. No one was injured in the incident. A cause has not yet been determined. Our staff are working closely with local officials on next steps.
Our campus has been comparatively quiet since March, when we announced the summer dance festival would be cancelled due COVID-19. We recently opened up studio and housing spaces to a small number of artists this fall for COVID-compliant Pillow Lab residencies.
The Doris Duke Theatre opened in 1990, the second of the Pillow’s two indoor theatres on our 220-acre campus. For 30 years, thousands of dance artists, arts professionals, and audiences have created and experienced beautiful, transformational art in the Doris Duke Theatre.
“While we have lost some precious, irreplaceable items, those experiences and memories will last forever. We are heartbroken and we are relieved that no one was hurt,” says Pamela Tatge, Jacob’s Pillow Executive & Artistic Director. “On behalf of everyone at the Pillow, we are grateful for the firefighters and officials who have responded so quickly to this devastating emergency on our grounds. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world we have already received. We will rebuild.”