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South Carolina Children’s Theatre Receives 2020 Leadership in Arts Award

The South Carolina Children’s Theatre remains steadfast in its mission to educate and impact youth through the performing arts.

Leadership in Arts Award: Recognizes an organization that serves our community through outstanding arts leadership and outreach programming therefore elevating the artistic opportunities available in our community.

“We are honored to celebrate the creative work and contributions of the South Carolina Children’s Theatre. Through the leadership of Debbie Bell, the SCCT changes the lives of so many children, uplifting our community as a whole.”—Rick Pennell, president & CEO, Metromont and capital campaign co-chair, South Carolina Children’s Theatre

By Angie Toole Thompson

There’s a guiding principle in the art of acting, a rule of acceptance revered by all players that builds on a shared, predetermined reality. It’s called the “Yes, and . . .” rule. Used in improvisation, the notion urges all to accept the world presented by one player (yes) and add to the fabric of that world (and).

South Carolina Children’s Theatre is no stranger to saying “Yes, and . . .”—both in classroom performance exercises and in its service to the community. Maybe it’s trite to use an acting metaphor to talk about the merits of a professional theater, but it’s nonetheless true. The beloved Greenville institution helps all children who walk across its stages to explore the magic of performing arts.

As with countless nonprofits impacted by the pandemic, SCCT has had to act smart and improvise this past year, navigating the opening of a brand-new performance space and the challenges of virtual programming. Notably, the efforts of the resilient and adaptable cadre resulted in one of the theater’s best summers ever.

“This is the year of the pivot,” says executive director Debbie Bell. “We were able to host summer classes on-site, [and] the protocol that was in place to make the classes work was pretty intense.” Continuing programming through strict safety protocols is achievement enough, but to also open a newly built facility is no small feat. The SCCT relocated from an 11,000-square-foot warehouse to a beautiful 36,000-square-foot theater on Augusta Street.

“We moved April 6,” Bell says, adding if there was “a blessing in all this,” it was the extra time to unpack piles of costumes and large sets.

Despite overcoming unprecedented challenges in unprecedented times, Bell points to the theater’s biggest point of pride: the children whose lives they’ve impacted since 1987. It’s the joy felt when a child delivers the lines they worked so hard to nail down and seeing the confidence that beams from their smiling cheeks. This is what SCCT truly deals in: impactful arts education that builds self-esteem. “We are able to help young people whether or not they end up in the arts,” Bell says. “I just want children to grow up to have self-esteem.”

But SCCT isn’t just impacting the kids who can afford the time or expense of such an extracurricular activity. “We have for many years [been in] the schools, development centers, the cancer center, the Meyer Center. We are all over the community, bringing the arts to children who are sick, less fortunate, or have special needs in any capacity.”

“[SCCT] has been a vital part of the Greenville arts and education community,” says supporter Minor Shaw. “They are committed to providing quality family-oriented theater and theater classes to our community and beyond.”

As Bell knows well, it takes as much mettle to keep a community institution like SCCT running as it does to be a child on a stage, but she and her crew are up for the challenge. “It is really important to us,” she says. “The arts are transformational in so many different ways.”

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