New, Wider, Cushier Seats Installed for Jacob’s Pillow Season Opening

The Ted Shawn Theatre at night in 2006.  Photo by Christopher Duggan

The Ted Shawn Theatre at night in 2006. Photo by Christopher Duggan



May 16, 2013 – (Becket, MA) Jacob’s Pillow, National Historic Landmark, National Medal of Arts recipient, and home to America’s longest-running dance festival, will soon unveil new seats in its historic Ted Shawn Theatre (1942) and Doris Duke Theatre (1989). The new seats are part of a $1,000,000 challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation, enabling the Pillow to implement long-needed improvements to its theatres and residential buildings and to seed a facility reserve designed to address long-term maintenance issues. The new seats in the Ted Shawn Theatre will be officially unveiled at the Pillow’s June 9 Member Appreciation Film Event, highlighting the final months of the “Name a Seat, Sustain a Landmark” fundraising campaign.

The Pillow’s historic grounds and buildings have roots in the days of horse-drawn carriages; “Jacob’s Pillow” was first a family farm in the 1790s and also served as a station on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. Purchased by dance pioneer Ted Shawn in 1931, the property hosted its first performances in 1933. The Ted Shawn Theatre, built in 1942, is the first theatre in the U.S. designed specifically for dance, and has since hosted the world’s finest dance artists for eight decades. Architect Joseph Franz, who also built The Music Shed at Tanglewood, designed both the interior and exterior to harmonize with the existing farmhouse and barns. The Doris Duke Theatre, also complementing the existing vernacular, was constructed in 1989 and is a flexible performance and rehearsal space.. Today, world-renowned dance companies and artists perform in both theatres Wednesdays through Sundays every week during the Festival, drawing audiences of more than 43,000 people annually. In addition, the Pillow offers more than 200 free events, totaling over 90,000 visitor experiences every season.

New seating in the Ted Shawn Theatre and Doris Duke Theatre will enhance patrons’ comfort with padded seats and backs, supportive armrests, and uniform seat heights and widths at modern standards. In the Doris Duke Theatre, padded seats with armrests will replace the original hard stacking chairs. In addition, the seat risers will be a state-of-the-art telescopic system, enabling faster changeovers for various purposes such as rehearsals, classes, and technical production needs. Aisle lighting will be improved in both theatres. The seats were selected for their high-quality materials and aesthetic fit with the theatres, and are sourced from Connecticut-based American Seating and Illinois-based Irwin Telescopic Seating Company.

Jacob’s Pillow Executive and Artistic Director Ella Baff comments, “Jacob’s Pillow is a National Historic Landmark – a destination and beloved place for people from all over the world. The Kresge Foundation has given us an extraordinary opportunity to improve the quality of our theatres and to ensure their long-term maintenance. 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.”

Other long-needed facility improvements are also part of the Name a Seat, Sustain a Landmark campaign. The Doris Duke Theatre backstage was remodeled, providing two new dressing rooms, two additional bathrooms each with multiple showers, and a lounge area (green room) where artists can relax and greet visitors. The Ted Shawn Theatre building envelope was tightened, and new siding applied, while preserving the New England barn vernacular, including the replacement of window casements, door casings, and installation of copper flashing. One of the Pillow’s older residential cabins, Baba Yaga (1933) has been moved to a new foundation to meet Town of Becket zoning, and was rebuilt, expanded, and winterized to increase capacity and maximize comfort. Works-in-progress include two more residential cabin projects to increase housing capacity for artists and seasonal staff.  The Kresge Foundation grant includes $350,000 for current facility needs and $650,000 to establish a cash reserve to support facility repairs in the future.

Name a Seat, Sustain a Landmark, the Pillow’s three-year $2,000,000 capital campaign concluding in September 2013, is anchored by a $1,000,000 challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation, a $3.1 billion national foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations through its support of nonprofit organizations working in its seven program areas: Arts and Culture, Community Development, Detroit, Education, the Environment, Health, and Human Services. The campaign has attracted charitable contributions from American Express and the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, and more than 50 individual donors. More than 50 new seats have been named in both theatres and the Pillow continues to seek individuals and institutions to complete the $1,000,000 challenge. These investments allow the Pillow to better serve the public and artists, and implement effective capitalization for its future.

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