Transcript, Episode 56: Supporting Asian Artists, Dance NFTs, and Pamela Tatge

[Jump to Pamela Tatge interview]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi, dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Cadence Neenan:
And I’m Cadence Neenan.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media. And in today’s episode, we’ll be talking about how the dance community is participating in the #StopAsianHate movement. We will get into what it means that dance moves have now been turned into NFTs. We will take a look at the state of live dance in New York City right now, as we are one year out from shutdowns. And then we’ll have our interview with Pamela Tatge, who is the executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow. Pam and I had this really wide ranging conversation about how the Pillow is recovering from multiple crises—both the pandemic, and also the fire that destroyed the campus’s Doris Duke Theatre in November—and then about how the organization has used the lessons from this past year to plan for the return of its festival this summer, which we’re so excited about.

But before we dive into all that, if you are not yet subscribed to this podcast, please pause the episode for a second and hit that subscribe button on your listening platform of choice. And while you’re at it, if you are so moved, give us a rating and a review too. Because not only do we appreciate your feedback—and we really do appreciate it, we really are listening!—but your ratings and reviews also help other people discover this little podcast dance family that we’ve created.

All right, now let’s get into our regular dance headline rundown and Cadence you are up first this week.

Cadence Neenan:
All right. And some very fun news: Pop icon Lizzo will host in all new Amazon reality series searching for full-figured models and dancers to perform with her on tour. And the show is now in casting. The competition style series, à la “America’s Next Top Model,” will award its winners the chance to join Lizzo on tour as a part of her big grrrls dance crew.

Margaret Fuhrer:
The best news to kick off this dance headline rundown.

Cadence Neenan:
It combines everything I’m interested in.

Courtney Escoyne:
The Royal Ballet has announced highlights from its upcoming 2021 to 22 season, anticipated to be the company’s first full season since 2019: The Dante Project, a long-delayed three-act by Wayne McGregor that was meant to debut last summer will finally premiere in October, also marking the farewell performances of beloved long-time principal Edward Watson—Ed, please don’t go, we love you so much! I digress. Also in the works, other three-actor by Christopher Wheeldon based on the Mexican novel Like Water For Chocolate, which is an American Ballet Theatre co-commission, so, we’re probably going to be seeing that on the side of the pond sooner than later. And a new work by Kyle Abraham, which, I am always excited to hear about new work by Kyle Abraham.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah! Yay for Kyle. It is exciting to see these two new full-lengths happening, especially The Dante Project finally happening. But, and I say this as we’re recording on Equal Pay Day, it would be happier news…

Courtney Escoyne:
Where are the women?

Margaret Fuhrer:
…yeah, if they weren’t both choreographed by well-established white men.

Courtney Escoyne:
More Cathy Marston? And more other people, too

Margaret Fuhrer:
They are out there.

Cadence Neenan:
Starting Monday, March 29th, American Ballet Theatre will present weekly premieres by the 2021 ABT Incubator choreographers. This year, ABT Incubator participants adapted to pandemic circumstances by creating new work with their colleagues over Zoom and in isolated ballet bubbles. And for the next six weeks, you can catch the filmed fruits of their labor on the American Ballet Theatre YouTube channel.

Courtney Escoyne:
Renowned Odissi dance star Laxmipriya Mohapatra passed away on March 20th at age 86. She is credited as the first dancer to perform Odissi on stage and was honored with a state funeral in India.

Cadence Neenan:
Crain’s New York Business named Paul Taylor Dance Company artistic director Michael Novak as one of its 2021 40 under 40. The magazine’s feature highlighted Novak’s work to keep the 67-year-old company alive, particularly in the last 12 months, including his organization of a virtual benefit, online classes and the online release of archival films and performances. So, congratulations to Michael and Paul Taylor American Modern Dance.

Courtney Escoyne:
And the National Dance Education Organization is advocating for continuing arts education in public K–12 schools next year, with most school districts facing budget shortfalls due to the pandemic—and we all know that’s historically led to arts programs being caught from curriculums. So for the end of this month, they’re collecting signatures on the Arts ARE Education pledge, which asserts that the arts are a part of a balanced education and asks signees to commit to supporting equitable access to arts instruction. You can sign as an individual or on behalf of your organization. It takes just a couple of minutes. You can head to artsoureducation.org, sign the pledge, and check out more ways that you can get involved.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And of course, we will include that link in the episode notes.

Cadence Neenan:
According to new research from Florida State University, dancing the Argentine tango may help people with Parkinson’s disease maintain balance and avoid falling. The iconic Argentine dance style emphasizes walking, balanced posture and weight shifting, all of which factor in fall prevention.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We already know, thanks to long running programs like Dance for PD, that dance can be so beneficial to people who have Parkinson’s. But the idea that Argentine tango specifically, its emphasis on weight shifting and on posture, may be particularly helpful—that’s fascinating. Something to explore.

All right. So now in our first roundtable segment, we want to talk about how the dance world has responded to the #StopAsianHate movement. In the days since the Atlanta-area shooting that killed eight people, including six Asian women, there has been an outpouring of support for the Asian community on dance-world social media. And there have been new or renewed conversations about how anti-Asian bias and stereotyping are very much a problem in dance. This moment has led some Asian dancers to speak out about their own encounters with racism or violence. And we want to start by talking about one of those accounts in particular. Alex Wong, whom you might know from “So You Think You Can Dance,” or from Broadway, or from The Greatest Showman or from TikTok, or all of the above—he is doing and has done everything—last week, he posted on Instagram about his experience being attacked earlier this month in New York City. And since then, that story has been picked up by a few news outlets.

Cadence Neenan:
As Margaret mentioned, Alex first posted on his Instagram, a video about how he was recently riding his bike through midtown in New York City, when a group of younger teenagers started throwing rocks at him and hitting him in the head. He said in his post that while he physically wasn’t hurt, the encounter made him question why exactly he was targeted. He had recorded the aftermath of the attack in a video diary on his phone, but had held off on sharing the video. He initially felt that he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, but he says in interviews that following the mass shooting in Atlanta, he felt he couldn’t remain silent any longer. He also said that he hoped that by sharing his story, he’ll encourage others to come forward if they feel they’ve been targeted. In an interview, he said, quote, “The rise of reported Asian crimes, it’s partly also due to people giving others the confidence to speak up.”

Courtney Escoyne:
Well, and I think it very much speaks to—he talked about, this happened the first week of March and he recorded this and then didn’t post it. He sat with it, and he said in his post that he realized like, I kept myself silent, if that’s sending the message that it’s okay to do this to people who are Asian-American, or Pacific Islanders—like , yes, we will just stay silent, and not take up space, and not say anything, and therefore it’s okay to behave in this way when obviously it is super not.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. And that’s been a common theme that we’ve been hearing a lot recently, that Asian hate crimes or potential hate crimes often go unreported for that reason.

We also want to talk about how members of the dance community are harnessing the energy around this movement and taking concrete action to support Asian artists. And the clear leaders in this effort in the dance world are Phil Chan and Georgina Pazcoguin of Final Bow for Yellowface. Dance Magazine just published a piece outlining Final Bow’s plans to improve Asian representation in dance, and to support Asian creatives who are working in and around the dance world. These are plans that were actually already in motion before the attacks, but have now been accelerated to, again, harness the energy around this movement right now.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. And if anyone is going to get this done, it is definitely Phil and Gina. So, just breaking down what these accelerated plans entail: For starters, they’re asking all ballet companies to commit to hiring an Asian choreographer for a mainstage production by 2025, prioritizing Asian women when possible, so that instead of just using Asian set dressing or Asian settings, there are Asian creatives telling stories from their perspective in their voices. In the month of May—which, as you may or may not know, is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month here in the US—Final Bow for Yellowface will be turning its Instagram page into essentially a virtual choreographic festival every day of the month. They will be featuring a different Asian choreographer, with footage of their work and an interview the choreographer. Basically, if there are any ballet company who are out there wondering, well, I don’t know any Asian choreographers—here you go!

Margaret Fuhrer:
Here they are. Yeah.

Courtney Escoyne:
Just take a quick scroll. And then the biggest long-term project that they’re working on is essentially launching a choreographic incubator to produce brand-new ballets with entirely Asian creative teams, from the choreography to the scores to the costumes to lighting design. And they are currently working on building a database of Asian creatives and raising funds to commission these works. It’s been really fun the past few days—they had a virtual tea house on Sunday and have opened up the Instagram page to be like, “Hey, introduce yourself.” And seeing Gina and Phil reacting to it, like, “There are so many of you, we can’t wait to meet all of you!”—it’s just been really cool to see this energy around this and to imagine what probably really incredible fun work we’re going to get to see coming out of this frankly godawful moment.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. They found a way to bring joy to a time that has been incredibly hard for a lot of people. We’ve included a link to the Dance Magazine story outlining all of these initiatives in the show notes, but please also be sure to follow at Final Bow for Yellowface on Instagram for regular updates on the work the organization is doing. And we’re also going to have Phil and Gina on the podcast soon to talk about all that work. So, stay tuned, lots more to come.

Courtney Escoyne:
Also, if you can donate, they’re a great place to donate.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yes! Donate.We’ll be linking to their website too, so you can go directly to their donation page.

So in our next segment, we’re going to talk about—oh gosh, here we go—NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. They are suddenly seemingly everywhere, and now they have officially entered the dance universe. So, last week the performing arts company Beauty in the Streets announced that it has partnered with a blockchain platform called Enjin to turn dancers’ signature moves into animated NFTs, which can then be purchased for use as emotes within certain apps and video games. If there are multiple words in that last sentence that you maybe didn’t understand, we hear you—we’re going to do our best to explain, although we’re not tech reporters, we’re dance people doing our best, so, don’t @ us, be gentle! So first of all, what is an NFT exactly? Courtney, you’ve done the research.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m going to try to do my best. 24 hours ago, guys, I had no idea what an NFT was, so, we are on this journey together.

All right. So, NFT stands for non-fungible token. Think of an NFT as a digital certificate of authenticity for one-of-a-kind digital files. You might be familiar with the idea of provenance in the visual art world, the history of ownership of a work of art that helps certify that it is what a collector or seller or broker says it is. NFTs do the same thing, but for digital items, like gifs videos, JPEGs, MP3s, or even text files. It’s essentially a new way to monetize intellectual property that lives on the internet. Artists can mint a new NFT, creating a new token that will forever be attached to that piece of content. And thanks to blockchain, each NFT has a built-in transparent transaction and pricing history verifying its authenticity and its original creator. And anytime that piece of unique content is resold, a built-in commission fee kicks back a percentage to the original artist.

So, you obviously can’t and shouldn’t do that with copyrighted material, but where this gets interesting is the idea of taking, say a gif or a video or a piece of movement and making it into an NFT. There are some initial startup costs issues, which is one of the weird things with NFTs. You have to purchase an amount of cryptocurrency. And then it actually costs a decent amount of money just to generate an NFT, because it’s like a whole bunch of computers doing really complex mathematics in order to make that happen—potentially a barrier to entry right now for dancers looking to get in on this. So, this announcement that this particular group is working with another particular blockchain group to create dance-based emotes is fascinating.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Let’s talk a little about what an emote is too, just quickly in case people don’t know. So, the form that these dance move NFTs are taking, emotes are basically like animated emojis that you can use in video games or certain apps. And you might’ve heard of them in the context of Fortnite, which allows you to buy all kinds of dance-move emotes to express yourself on the battlefield. And they’ve gotten in some trouble for ripping off some dancers’ moves without crediting those dancers. That’s the context in which most of us know about emotes.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I think also that’s part of what makes us so interesting is that those conversations about emotes in Fortnite taking dance moves that existed in the real world without crediting or paying the creators, the lawsuits that ensued—we talked a lot about how copyright law hasn’t really caught up to that. NFTs are essentially making it so that dancers can just slide on in there and monetize their moves themselves.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Right. This is a way for them to market their own intellectual property directly to existing fan bases who might be into dance already. It’s interesting too, because the whole idea of making a signature move into an NFT—that seems like it’s geared toward the breaking community. There are opportunities for that here. And I think in fact, the first NFT is a breaking move. It’s from the founder of Beauty in the Streets, Snap Boogie, and it’s called Speedy Walkovers, which—it’s basically like a rapid string of one-handed walkovers in place. It’s actually really cool.

Courtney Escoyne:
It’s really cool.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Be sure to look it up in the story that we’ve linked. And it sounds like those who purchased this particular NFT can “perform” the move in a specific 3D game called AlterVerse. So, right now the reach of these NFTs, I guess, is relatively limited. But if this does become something that is large enough that people are willing to overcome those barriers to enter, those initial costs—I don’t know. Could it be a real way for dancers to generate some real income? Or is it more of a flash-in-the-pan trend?

Cadence Neenan:
I don’t know. I think our habit with a lot of things like cryptocurrency and even just online trends is to say, it’s just a fad, it’s a bubble, it’ll go away. But I think we all said that about TikTok when it first started up, and now it’s a part of my daily actual job. And so I think I wouldn’t be quick to write this off. I think we’ve seen Bitcoin cryptocurrency—we all wrote that off when it first started, and now there are people making millions off of it. So, I think I’m excited about the room for growth.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. And I think also video games is a huge business right now.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Huge. Oh my gosh. Yeah. Even just the idea of there being a digital market for human movement, that is fascinating. Paging Sydney Skybetter—we’ve got to figure this out.

Courtney Escoyne:
Just doing research for this, I kept wanting to go over to my email and be like, “Hey Sydney, what do you think?” I’m so curious.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We’ve got to have Sydney on the podcast too, soon.

All right. So, our last segment is not about a single news item, but rather a group of stories that together offer a snapshot of this weird state of live dance performance in New York City right now. So, just for context, in a regular year, at this point, the city would be an absolute hive of dance activity. Like we usually joke, us nerdy dance people, about March Madness on the dance performance calendar. And then of course at this time last year, we’d just begun a complete shutdown—the two extremes. But right now, just in this past week, we’ve started seeing fits and starts of live dance activity. This sort of like two-steps-forward, one-step-back progress.

Cadence Neenan:
So, one of the most significant pieces of news for dancers itching to get back into the studio is that indoor fitness classes in New York City are starting to be allowed to resume. This comes shortly after our group of fitness studios sued Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo for the right to reopen. And now we’re starting to see studios being allowed to get inspections from the city so that they’re able to reopen and they can then start rolling out the schedules for restarting their programs. Of course, fitness classes will be capped at 33% capacity and patrons will be required to wear face coverings, as has, I think just become the norm in our daily lives. But it is getting dancers back into the studio, slowly but surely.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. And it’s definitely a process. Steps on Broadway put out a statement the same day that this was announced, essentially saying, Okay, so we have the go-ahead—theoretically, we can go ahead as of, it was Monday this past week. But first, they had to get an inspection on the books. They wanted to make sure that their HVAC systems and air ventilation systems were all up to snuff. All of these things that essentially boil down to, yes, we have the go ahead, but we’re not rushing into this. We’re going to take our time, do it right. Not just following the letter of the law, but making sure that everyone feels safe and feels comfortable coming back.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, this is no on-off switch. There’s no immediate return to an old normal. And then indoor performances, as we said last week, made an unexpectedly early return at the Guggenheim, where Caleb Teicher’s show seemingly went off without a hitch over the weekend. It sounds like it was fantastic. But then also at the Park Avenue Armory, where the story is a little bit different.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. So, yesterday when you’re hearing this—Wednesday—Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, as we had announced, was going to be performing Afterwardsness at the Park Avenue Armory to very small audience capacity. It was a sold out show. Everyone was going to be required to have rapid tests when they got there, to socially distance, all the things. This had to be called off at the end of last week and indefinitely postponed after, I believe according to The New York Times, three members of the company tested positive for COVID. So, that has essentially been indefinitely postponed. I also just saw not long before we started recording, they are still going forward with another indoor performance at the Armory that is going to be kicking off at the beginning of April, I believe.

Margaret Fuhrer:
The David Byrne–Steven Hoggett collab, that’s April 9th.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. So, I think the vibe is very much…I think they are confident in their safety measures. And I think that the fact that they so quickly canceled when they had that test, shows like, yes, they are taking this seriously and taking precautions.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Courtney Escoyne:
We’ll see what happens.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. It does seem like this will probably be a fairly common occurrence, like a leap forward, a scaling back, another leap forward, as outbreaks happen and are contained, until most of the population is vaccinated. It’s just the nature of the game.

Cadence Neenan:
Yeah. Even the same day that Caleb Teicher & Co inaugurated the first in-person return of the Guggenheim’s Works & Process—the same day, they were scheduled to perform through New York PopsUp, and it was canceled because new protocols had been established.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. So, then, there were two stories—there was one in Dance Magazine, and one in the Times—talking about how, even though there’s still all these hurdles when it comes to indoor dance, outdoor performance or plans for outdoor performance are through the roof as warmer weather is beginning to return to New York City. Of course, this isn’t just happening in New York City, it’s happening all over, but there is a lot of it happening in New York, from smaller-scale performances to the 10 outdoor venues that Lincoln Center creating on its campus. Outside is where audiences seem to feel most comfortable. And artists are finding all kinds of inspiration in outdoor settings as well. We’re about to hear Pam Tatge talk about how that’s such a part of life at the Pillow. It’s true in New York City too. There’s this almost celebratory feel to outside performance even in non-pandemic times.

Cadence Neenan:
Yeah. I remember one of my most exciting performances was when I was 11 singing Merce Cunningham at Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C. I don’t know, there’s something about outdoor spaces that just… It’s a different experience. And it’s a really amazing one. Even when you’re being eaten to death by mosquitoes in the middle of summer in Washington, D.C., I stil—it’s one of the performances that’s most lodged in my memory, and I was like 11.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Your mosquito bites are badges of honor.

Courtney Escoyne:
Or a few summers ago in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, which was close to where our office used to be. I used to take walks during lunch time. I remember one time just coming across Netta Yerushalmy dancers—there was this whole commissioning series where there was art happening and rehearsals happening in the park. And I came across them doing Netta’s moves, which I cannot categorize to save my life. And it was just such a delightful surprise. And yeah, I feel like stuff like that is very much the spirit of a New York City spring and summer. And I think as long as everyone is being smart and being cognizant and audiences are being respectful, I think this presages really good things.

Margaret Fuhrer:

Yeah. The idea of everybody walking around New York and stumbling across dance performances this summer—that’s a lovely thought to hold on to.

All right. So we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we will have our interview with Pamela Tatge about what’s going on at Jacob’s Pillow. Stay tuned.

[pause]

INTERVIEW WITH PAMELA TATGE

Margaret Fuhrer:
Welcome back, dance friends. I’m here now with Pamela Tatge, who’s the executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow. Hi, Pam, how are you?

Pamela Tatge:
Hi, fine, thanks. Great to be here today.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you so much for joining us. Jacob’s Pillow has been through a lot over the past year, and it has big innovative plans for the future that I want to talk about. But before we get into all of that, would you mind telling our listeners a little about yourself and about your relationship with dance and the dance world?

Pamela Tatge:
Absolutely. So I would say my first encounter was in fourth grade. Amazingly up my street in Bethesda, Maryland, there was a former dancer from The Royal Ballet in England who had a studio attached to her house, so I began to study ballet then. And dance became a lifelong love from there on. I always studied dance, but I was originally a theater artist. So I really studied dance as a means to train my total self in terms of the work that I do or did at that time, and took class all the way through college.

Post-college, my first career aim was to be an actor and I swiftly abandoned that probably two years in just because I couldn’t wait for other people to determine when I worked, and I had too much I wanted to do in this life. And I didn’t have a big enough ego to self-produce and have people discover me.

So, I began my work in support of artists and in support of marrying artists to audiences. And that career began in theater at Long Wharf Theatre for 10 years. Then I was the director of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. And there was a very strong dance piece of that job, where I really over time learned that that this was my love, this form that transcended language that opened my eyes. And when the job at Jacob’s Pillow opened up and I was approached about it, I thought, My god, to be able to go deeply into this form that I had grown to love so much was just a dream. So, I will have my fifth anniversary in April. I can’t believe it. And so that’s a little bit about my path.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Oh, congratulations, five years. I’m sorry to begin the Jacob’s Pillow part of our conversation on this tragic note, but I want to start by addressing the fire that destroyed the Pillow’s Doris Duke Theatre in November, because that was the kind of loss that a lot of us in the dance world felt really viscerally—there was this outpouring of grief. Can you talk about what actually happened, first of all, and then how the Pillow responded in the immediate aftermath?

Pamela Tatge:
So, yes, you don’t ever think in life that you’re going to go through something like this. And of course in my years at the Pillow, the presence of wood and its fragility is always there. But on November 17th, a fire began early in the morning, and within just a few hours, the building was destroyed. The fire inspectors’ report came out a few weeks ago and really said that there was no cause that they could determine, that the devastation was so great that they couldn’t put their finger on what happened. And so, the idea that it is a mystery—we have thoughts about what could have happened, there was a series of events that led this to happen and happen fast. But the cause, the reason for the fire, we just will never know. And there’s a great sorrow in that, because you want to explain it, you want to understand it. And meanwhile, all you have is that emptiness.

And so as an organization, of course, what we put in place immediately was a double, triple check of all of our systems, so that we ascertain that all of what we have is being taken care of as best as we can, within what we can control. We’re having an entire independent risk assessment done of all systems related to health and safety at the Pillow.

So that’s the physical story. The emotional story is, I think the idea that we experienced this at a time of such loss, that so many people were going through such loss, it became almost like the physical manifestation of what everyone was feeling.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pamela Tatge:
And so I think that’s why it hit particularly hard. But the minute anyone expressed that grief, everyone said right away, Oh my god, thank god an ember didn’t go into the new Perles Studio or the Ted Shawn Theatre, or the Ruth St. Denis, which is just adjacent. It’s miraculous that the wind was in our favor. We thank our volunteer firefighters for the work that they did to put out the fire and contain it. And most importantly, there was no human life lost. And when you test your mission as an organization, one of the key questions is well, “What would people feel if something happened? If you went away, what would the consequences be?” We got a sense of what it would mean because of how people expressed why that theater mattered to them.

We’ve been going through the stages of grief for sure, but we really felt—it really happened right before the holidays. So, we made a plan right before the holidays to have a researcher conduct a series of listening sessions, and the questions we asked people—and those people were artists who were associated with the history of the Duke, artists who’ve never performed in the Duke, people who have built venues within the past 10 years, technicians who’ve worked in the space for years, including some of the technicians that were there at the founding of the Doris Duke Theatre—we interviewed audience members, community members, and we asked, what about that space did you love, should we retain? If we were to make improvements in that space, what would you like to see? And then very importantly, what do we need for the 21st century? What is a performance space that will resonate for the times we were living in, for the work that artists want to make, including considerations of technological advancements?

And we’ve just completed that research study. And we are now on the next step of architect selection. And it’s our hope to be able to come back to the community in the fall with a sense of scope. And of course, it’ll be yet another campaign, because we will have insurance support for the loss of the building, but because we’re hoping to build a space that is for the 21st century, in ways it will definitely require more than what we will be able to get from our insurance claim. And so that’s quite frankly right where we are as of this minute.

Margaret Fuhrer:
At the Pillow, you have this challenge of—even though I know the Duke was newer than, say, the Ted Shawn Theatre, you’re dealing with something that’s both a living performance venue and a museum, this place with so much history. And preserving that and protecting that requires a different type of work in a way. But you also have pledged you’re going to renovate and upgrade the Ted Shawn.

Pamela Tatge:
Yes.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Can you talk a little about the details of those plans, as well?

Pamela Tatge:
Yes. And just imagine being us, right? We’ve been working meticulously for four years to plan this renovation of the Ted Shawn Theatre and raise the funds to do it. It’s $8 million to do the Shawn renovation alone. And we had a plan to announce it on April 20th in New York—we had to cancel that entirely because of the pandemic. And there was a moment where we thought, “Well, maybe we can’t go on with this plan in this campaign.” But we soon realized as we learned more about COVID that the Ted Shawn Theatre simply would not be a sustainable space in a post-COVID world, without ventilation and air conditioning and air handling. So in fact, the renovation of the Shawn, we had no choice but to move forward with this renovation. And so, we actually broke ground in January on a snowy blustery day. We opened up the back door that everyone who’s been to the Ted Shawn Theatre knows those back doors when they’re opened how glorious it is. Well, the snow was coming in and we were socially distant on the stage because we had to fit… Like we had to have some physical—there’s been so many virtual celebrations, and we had to be physically in the same space!

So, the plan is that really we are not touching the house area. We’re only going to be addressing the stage area. The big draw for why the Ted Shawn Theatre needs to be renovated, and this we arrived at soon after I came to the Pillow, is that the beams that support the roof support the rigging and those beams are old. They’re from 1942. And so the stage house will be moved back. The proscenium line will move back. We will preserve those back doors. The entire back wall will be the back wall of the new theater. So, for people coming into the theater, they’ll feel something different, but they’ll still see those amazing doors. We will add an eco-friendly air conditioning and ventilation system. And I think what’s interesting about this is that we won’t be turning the Ted Shawn Theatre into an insulated envelope. It will still be a barn, but on hot days, we will have a cooling system that will pump cool air in, but we only use it on the hottest days. And it’s just never going to feel like one of those theater fridges that you go into.

We are also addressing accessibility right now. If we had a physically disabled artist, we would have no way for them to access the stage. So the stage will now be accessible. We will have a dressing room that will be accessible. We will have, in terms of the house area, the one thing we are doing to the house is because we’re moving the proscenium back, we’re creating an orchestra pit, and we’re also creating accessible seating that’s down front. So in the past, our only accessible seats were in the back of the house. Now we have an option of sitting at the front of the house. And so some of the other things that we will be able to do is—again, a sustainability choice—is add LED lighting, and we’re really hoping to move to entirely LED lights over time. We’ll have an increased stage size. So it’ll be wider, deeper, and higher.

And I think… Oh, the other thing for dancers who know the space well that if you have to go from stage right to stage left, right now, you have to go outside.There’s the crossover is outside and we cover it with a tarp, but you’re basically needing to contend with the elements in the middle of your performance.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Sort of a Jacob’s Pillow rite of passage!

Pamela Tatge:
Yes, it’s true! So people will now be able to have a crossover space via the basement. So, I think we’re headed into really… It’s really long-overdue that we do this. And we finally been able to raise the money, thanks to some extraordinarily generous donors and just we’re so grateful.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So exciting to see all this forward-looking work underway. Let’s talk a little about the summer, because you just made a major announcement that the festival will be coming back this summer in a hybrid version, with some outdoor performances that will allow some dancers and audience members to be back on the Pillow campus, which is such a huge thing. Can you talk a bit about both the why and the how of this hybrid approach to the summer festival?

Pamela Tatge:
Absolutely. So, I would say that first of all, last summer when we had to cancel the festival, we just like so many of our colleagues around the country made a pivot to a virtual festival, but we didn’t do it small. We did 38 events over eight weeks. Only 20% of them were preexisting productions. We ended up reaching thousands of audiences as many of our colleagues have experienced. To us, the remarkable statistic is 80% of those people were new to Jacob’s Pillow. So, we are known around the world, but because of our remote location, we’re very difficult to figure out how to get to. So, it became imperative to us that this summer, especially with the… I’ll talk a little bit about how we’re thinking about an outdoor, socially distanced festival, but the only way to do this is to massively reduce capacity. So, the idea of the hybrid festival is to actually be able to reach audiences who either will not be able to get a ticket because we only have a limited amount available this summer, or, there are a number of people who come to Jacob’s Pillow, they come maybe one or two times during the summer and they say, “Oh my god, if I could see everything that happens at Jacob’s Pillow and see it online, how exciting would that be?”

So, we’re really using this summer as… Jacob’s Pillow has been pretty much set up in the same format every year. I inherited an absolutely beautifully well-oiled machine in terms of performance presentation. But this summer, we will break that in important ways. We’re talking a lot in this country about systems and how we have to evaluate our systems of oppression, our hierarchies. And by really starting fresh with, what work can we present outdoors? Whose voices should be represented right now on our stages? I made the decision actually over a year ago to bring on a guest curator, to expand our curatorial team with the idea that I’m thinking about the hierarchy of a single decision-maker in a major institution like Jacob’s Pillow. I love the part of my job at Wesleyan that was about programming collaboratively with faculty and with students sometimes. So, I’m very intrigued by thinking about gatekeeping. And so I made the decision to bring a guest curator on, was in the middle of the search when COVID hit, basically said, “Actually, I want to have a system where I have two associate curators.” So, we brought on two associate curators to plan both the Pillow Lab and the summer’s festival. They are Ali Rosa-Salas and Melanie George. And so when we announce the artists in this festival, we are carefully looking at whose voices we’re centering at this time.

In terms of the physical, the how of this is that the core programming will happen on the Inside/Out stage. It is perfectly set up. We feel so blessed that we have this amphitheater type seating with a stage, the backdrop of which are the Berkshire Hills. And it’s magnificent. And so, we will be having nine weeks of companies coming to perform, one company each week. And then, we’ll also have a series of site-based works that will take place in pop-up ways around the campus, a different one every week, every weekend. And some of these are the combination of residencies we’ve been having in the Pillow Lab. Others are works that are being developed specifically for Jacob’s Pillow, for the site Jacob’s Pillow.

And this has been a thrilling journey for our curators and me, to have a conversation about artists, about, what do they want to make right now if we are using natural stages at the Pillow as opposed to the structures, what do they want to make? So in some cases, it’s adaptations of existing works, and in others it’s works that will be created specifically for the Pillow. And we call it a multi-platform festival because in addition to the in-person, we will have an online festival that will parallel the in-person festival. So they’ll happen at the same time, so that we’re benefiting from all of the contextualization and marketing that will be bringing audiences to the campus, will also be bringing them to our digital platform.

And we think this is vital. What we learned last summer was just about accessibility. Everyone has talked about this, that we are accessing people who might not ever be able to come to Jacob’s Pillow, either for a geographic barriers or economic barriers or physical barriers, any number of barriers that we have been contending with for our entire existence. We are now able to reach people.

And so alongside that, I guess I should also talk about how we’re doing this in the middle of COVID, and that is under rigorous attention from medical advisors. We will be socially distant, with masks, with health forms completed before you arrive outdoors, and we’re doing everything we can to get it right.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I feel like when we’re thinking about places where dance can happen in a COVID-safe way—I know for me and a lot of my colleagues, the Pillow is the place that comes immediately to mind, just these incredible outdoor spaces and spaces that have been inspiring artists for so many years. The idea that then this is a time to build on that is kind of beautiful.

So, I want to talk specifically about antiracism work at the Pillow, because I know that that’s been a priority of yours for a while. And the murder of George Floyd last spring, and then the protest that followed, it seemed to sort of shake a lot of dance organizations awake. Can you talk about how the Pillow’s antiracism work has evolved or maybe accelerated over the past months, or how it’s been a continuation?

Pamela Tatge:
Sure. So, I would say this is work that we’ve been doing for four years. We have a wonderful partner in Gwendolyn VanSant at a company called Multicultural BRIDGE in Lee, Massachusetts. And we started with staff training that led to intern, all seasonal staff trainings, board trainings, to—really with the understanding that unless you understand your own implicit biases, you really can’t begin to enter into new ways of thinking around becoming an antiracist organization or an inclusive organization. So, we had that history, we’ve had sort of two accelerating moments. I would say the first accelerating moment was in 2019 when we had a racist incident at our gala, and we made the decision to go public with what happened so that we were just saying to our community, what are we going to do to create spaces of belonging so that these sorts of events don’t happen?

So, that was one accelerating moment. And then of course, all of us really felt like whatever we’re doing, we’re not doing enough. I think it was Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the great choreographer and thinker who’s now at the Kennedy Center, talked about, we can’t afford to be patient. And I think all of us felt that that maybe we have tried to methodically change our practices, change our behaviors. But in fact, what we need is some radical change in our thinking in order to really break down systems of oppression. And so, what we had, sort of amazingly—and I just have to highly recommend it—right before COVID hit, end of February, last weekend in February, the entire staff of Jacob’s Pillow went through PISAB training. And PISAB is The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. It’s an antiracism training that takes two days. It’s very intensive. And our staff was just so committed to going the next step—and then COVID hit. And then we had the layoffs that ensued. So, not only did we build this desire to move forward and this trust as a staff community, but then the trust was broken by us having to make the decision about laying people off.

So, we felt like the first group to think about how we might begin to implement greater changes at Jacob’s Pillow would be to focus in on our staff, the remaining staff, and have them work carefully. So in July and August, we met every other week with our trainer Gwendolyn VanSant. At the same time, one of the actions that I felt we needed to take was, we simply don’t have the perspective in our board and in our staff to understand where are those systems that need to be altered and change. So, I took a page from universities that conduct external reviews of departments every so often to get outsiders to give feedback. So, we actually hired a facilitator to create an external review so that we can see ourselves through their lens. And this is a BIPOC group of artists and cultural practitioners. And I would say that in particular, in terms of the artists, we do have a really rich history of featuring artists from many cultures internationally and nationally. And so I know that, as I said before, this summer’s festival will be centering BIPOC artists and their work in particular forms that maybe haven’t been presented at Jacob’s Pillow before.

We also need to grapple with our history. All legacy institutions have to look at and understand their complex histories in relationship to issues such as cultural appropriation. We began to discuss that in 2019, around an exhibition that we actually called Dance We Must at Blake’s Barn, that came out of an exhibition that was at Williams College. And I think we have to have more conversations to understand our complex history, as well as think of the other histories that emanate from the land on which we dance, in particular, our Indigenous past. And we have had some extraordinary interactions with our local elders, who are actually working with us to shape some of the summer’s programming, as well as, Emily Johnson had a Pillow Lab in the fall and is also looking at our land and helping us understand that history.

So, I understand that we have so much work to do. There are so many people for whom Jacob’s Pillow is not a place where they feel like they belong. And it’s our job to figure this out in the most thoughtful—but we can’t take too long, as Bamuthi says. We can’t be patient.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Mm-hmm. I’m going to conclude with another huge question after a series of huge questions. What makes you hopeful about the future of dance right now, both at the Pillow and more broadly?

Pamela Tatge:
I think that there’s something about this period of isolation, which has caused all of us to perhaps associate with our bodies more than ever, because we’re all we’ve got in many ways. And in that way, I think that people are responding so viscerally to movement, to dance. And this explosion of content that has been created for the digital sphere is—it’s the innovation that’s come from it that gives me great hope. The ubiquity of dance on platforms like TikTok has just also made you feel that dance has been one of those great hopes of this period of time. The work that artists are thinking about making right now, where they want to make it, what conditions they need to make it, I think are going to shift greatly. And I think a place like Jacob’s Pillow has got to be there for those artists when we come, when we are able to come back to more robust activities again.

I think the energy and the creativity is there. The devastation is huge though, Margaret as you know. It’s just going to take years, I think for our field to recover from this devastation, and we’re going to lose—a lot of company structures are just not going to make it, I don’t think. But I’m really heartened by the appetite for dance. And the fact that dance makers have not stopped, they’ve kept on, they have persevered. And I wouldn’t do this work as my life’s work if I didn’t believe in the healing power of dance. And we need that community-building power of dance now more than ever, to really address some of the deep divisions in this country. And so, I look forward to doing all I can to partner with my colleagues around the country to make those experiences possible for communities who need us right now, and for artists who need means, who need the scaffolding to be able to realize their dreams.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Pam, thank you so much. I’m trying to remember—I did an interview and I’m trying to remember who it was with, I think it was Tyler Angle talking about Tiler Peck and saying, “Oh, I love partnering her, because you barely even have to partner her, she just goes”—and that’s how I felt doing this interview. I barely even had to ask questions! It was kind of wonderful.

Pamela Tatge:
Thank you.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Where can listeners go to find out more about the Pillow and about the summer festival?

Pamela Tatge:
Okay. So we will be announcing the full schedule and the artists in April. And so go to our website, which is www.jacobspillow.org. We also are on Instagram and Facebook. And I think those are the best places to follow us because we put all of our announcements there.

And I do want to just say that we have this wonderful series called Inside the Pillow Lab. It’s a series of documentaries we’ve been making about work being made in our bubble residencies. We started with Brian Brooks, Shamel Pitts, Emily Johnson, Michelle Dorrance, Kyle Abraham. So there are wonderful… That docuseries is on YouTube, but we have new ones premiering throughout the spring, thanks to the Mellon Foundation, who really realized this was a way to get direct support to artists right now, is to fund bubble residencies, and we’re so grateful to them. So, that’s a way to stay engaged this spring until the summer is through the Inside the Pillow Lab.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And we’ll include all of the relevant links in our episode description so people can find those easily as well.

Pamela Tatge:
Fantastic. Well, thank you for taking the time to do this, Margaret. It’s so important to me that people know what we’re working on at Jacob’s Pillow. We need all the partners we can get right now. So, thanks for helping us spread the word.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you. I think we’re all so eager and so excited to see the Pillow back and—not that it ever went away, but just that the sense of resilience, that it’s continued through even the most challenging year in its history.

Pamela Tatge:
Thank you. Thanks so much.

[pause]

Thanks again to Pam. The idea of making a pilgrimage to the Pillow for performance this summer, it’s the best daydream. And that it’s one that might actually be able to come true or at the very least of virtual pilgrimage, for sure. As we mentioned, we’ve included all the relevant links in the episode notes, but just for reference, the Pillow handle is at Jacob’s Pillow on both Instagram and Twitter. Be sure to give them a follow. All right. Thanks everyone for joining us. We will be back next week for more of the news that’s moving in the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.

Cadence Neenan:
Bye everyone.