South Carolina Children’s Theatre (SCCT) announced today that after 34 years of service, Debbie Bell, Executive Director, has decided to retire. The Board of Directors of South Carolina Children’s Theatre has organized a search committee to find Ms. Bell’s replacement, who will serve in the role of Managing Director. The organization will adopt a new management structure, with a Managing Director co-leading SCCT with Artistic Director, Matt Giles. Ms. Bell will stay on as Executive Director until Fall 2022, when the new Managing Director is expected to be in place.
“The impact of Debbie’s leadership and her legacy at SCCT cannot be overstated,” says Kathryn Freedman, Board Chair of SCCT. “She has spent her career ensuring all children of the Upstate are exposed to the benefits the dramatic and musical arts provide, and she has created a culture of empowerment and belonging. While saddened by Debbie’s retirement, the SCCT Board of Directors and supporting staff are confident that our new management structure, with Matt Giles continuing as co-leader of the organization, will facilitate a smooth transition. Thanks to the strong foundation Debbie has built, SCCT will continue to thrive as we look toward our future.”
Before joining the team at South Carolina Children’s Theatre, Ms. Bell worked in the banking industry, at IBM, and at Coldwell Banker Caine. Her first interactions with SCCT were as a parent volunteer. “My children were performing in productions and I simply fell in love with it. I started volunteering and realized my heart was here,” says Bell. By 1989, Ms. Bell was promoted from volunteer to Business Manager of SCCT. In 1999, she was promoted to Executive Director, and thus began a career that has now impacted generations of children and families in the Upstate of South Carolina.
While SCCT has been forced to limit capacity and/or put certain programs on hold over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-COVID, the theatre consistently served more than 50,000 children and families per year through its theatrical productions, year-round education classes, and community outreach programs. “We have grown to be so much more than a performance theatre,” says Ms. Bell. “Through our Conservatory for Theatre Arts, we provide professional educational programs for children ages 3-18. In these classes, we teach and help students develop performance, communication, cooperation, self-discipline, and critical thinking skills. Simultaneously, our community outreach programs help us make sure that even our most vulnerable neighbors can enjoy, and benefit, from our theatrical and educational programming as well.”
While the average tenure of an Executive Director is 6 years, Ms. Bell’s 23-year tenure as Executive Director (and 34 years of total service) at SCCT has made her an icon of the Greenville arts community, where she has built hundreds of partnerships that have helped mold the theatre into what it is today. Her close friend and colleague, Alan Ethridge, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Arts Council, says of Ms. Bell’s legacy: “For the last 23 years, Debbie Bell has been an amazing leader and trailblazer in Greenville’s arts community. Debbie has played a significant role in ensuring that the next generation of actors, theatre technicians, donors, volunteers, and supporters are being cultivated to take our thriving Greenville arts community to new heights in the future.”
Under Ms. Bell’s leadership, South Carolina Children’s Theatre has won numerous awards and distinctions for its high standards of artistic leadership and excellence, including the SC Secretary of State Angel Award (2003), the SCTA Founder’s Award (2010), the SCTA Theatre of Distinction Award (2018), and the Community Foundation of Greenville’s Leadership in Arts Award (2020).
While Ms. Bell’s work at SCCT has made an indelible and positive impact on hundreds of thousands of children and parents, she has also made an indelible and positive impact on the City of Greenville, as she leaves behind a brand new, state-of-the-art theatre facility that will allow South Carolina Children’s Theatre to flourish for generations to come. After many years of operating out of warehouses, government buildings, and eventually the Gunter Theatre at the Peace Center, in 2010, the theatre was given an unexpected and remarkable gift. Local arts patron and friend of Ms. Bell, Ms. Josephine Cureton, bequeathed her home and plot of land in downtown Greenville to South Carolina Children’s Theatre, under one condition: the organization would need to raise funding to erect a theatre of its own. Never one to shy from a challenge, between 2014-2020, Ms. Bell worked with a team of community volunteers on a capital campaign that raised over $14 million for the new building from private and corporate donors, foundations, the City, the County, and the State. “Debbie was the driving force at the helm of the capital campaign,” says Minor Shaw, co-chair of SCCT’s capital campaign. “Her vision, passion, and commitment to SCCT were essential in making the campaign a success and ensuring a strong future for South Carolina Children’s Theatre!”
In collaboration with local architects Craig Gaulden Davis, and the team at Triangle Construction, the new South Carolina Children’s Theatre was completed April 2020 and stands at 153 Augusta Street, across from Gather GVL. And while the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted plans for a grand opening, SCCT plans to have a 35-year anniversary “homecoming celebration” this fall 2022, in conjunction with Ms. Bell’s retirement. “As conditions become safer, we are excited to fling open our doors and welcome the community into our theatre in a big way this fall. It is important to us that the community feels at home at SCCT now, and into the future,” says Bell.
With the new building in place, SCCT is poised for its next stages of growth. Ms. Bell couldn’t be more excited about the vision of Artistic Director, Matt Giles. “Matt is a true visionary,” says Bell. “He is a skilled collaborator, bridge builder, and champion for the critical role SCCT plays in the Greenville arts community. It has been an honor to work alongside him. As the principal steward of SCCT’s mission and vision, Matt works tirelessly to create a culture that attracts talented artists and the resources necessary to produce work at an increasingly impressive level of artistic achievement. The organization is in good hands,” says Bell.
Working in partnership over the past 3 years, and navigating the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic together, Ms. Bell and Mr. Giles were a formidable team. “Debbie Bell is a force,” says Mr. Giles. “I have had the opportunity to work with theatre leaders from across the country and have rarely met a leader with her drive, compassion, and vision. She is an icon in this community and it has been an absolute joy collaborating with her for the past two years. Because of her tireless efforts, SCCT is set up for success for many years to come. I will dearly miss working alongside her, but I am so appreciative of all that she has done for this organization and this community.”
In addition to her role as Executive Director at SCCT, Ms. Bell has served on numerous community Boards throughout the years, including: PTAs of several Greenville County Schools, Converse College Alumni Board, Downtown Soccer Association, West End Association Board, Caine Halter YMCA Board, YMCA Metro Board, and the Non-profit Alliance Steering Committee. She was co-founder of the Caine Halter Lungs for Life 5K, the precursor to Run4Life, where she continues to be involved. She currently serves on the Metropolitan Arts Council Board as head of the Cultural Coalition. In recognition of her contributions to the Greenville community, Ms. Bell received the Metropolitan Arts Council (MAC) Visionary Award (2013), and has also been named to Greenville Business Magazine’s “50 Most Influential 2019” and “Most Influential Hall of Fame 2020.”
On top of her many accolades, accomplishments, and contributions to the arts community of the City of Greenville, perhaps the most important part of Ms. Bell’s legacy remains in the lasting relationships she has built as a leader, a mentor, and a friend to so many – inspiring an entire generation of Greenvillians to appreciate and grow from the arts. Ms. Bell’s deep passion and loyalty to serving children and families will always be a part of South Carolina Children’s Theatre. “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to lead this amazing organization, and I can’t wait to see how the theatre will grow, evolve, and continue to positively impact the community in the years to come. The future is bright for South Carolina Children’s Theatre.”
Founded in 1987 by Ric Standridge, South Carolina Children’s Theatre has impacted the lives of children and families in the Upstate community through theatre, educational classes and workshops, and accessible outreach initiatives. Each year, South Carolina Children’s Theatre produces and performs five high quality, live theatre performances featuring children and adults on its Bell MainStage. The theatre also produces three-four additional shows and other special events on its more intimate Younts 2nd Stage. Throughout the year, SCCT offers professional year-round education in the dramatic arts for children ages 3 to 18, as well as educational outreach to low-income and special needs children. For more information about South Carolina Children’s Theatre, please visit: www.scchildrenstheatre.org
Director of Development & Marketing
South Carolina Children’s Theatre
Address: 153 Augusta Street, Greenville, SC 29601
Office Phone: (864) 203-1164