“In the early days, we would perform anywhere that would have us — churches, schools — until we became a resident company of the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre. Even then we moved our administrative offices, classrooms and outreach programs from place to place without the synergy of having everything in the same building where we held performances,” Bell says. “Now the Children’s Theatre has a true home it can be proud of.”
Under Bell’s leadership, SCCT has become the state’s largest children’s theater, serving 50,000 children and their families every year through performances, special events, classes, residencies, school tours and outreach programs for underserved children and those with special needs. The theater has also developed programs to help young people face issues like bullying, gangs, drugs and alcohol. Pursuing these projects despite financial constraints was important to Bell, and their impact in the community remains a point of pride.
“SCCT has tremendous partnerships that the public may not be aware of. We’ve worked with everyone from Marshall Pickens (Hospital), Camp Courage, the Meyer Center, the Washington Center and Greenville County Schools Child Development Centers, providing theater-education classes for children who wouldn’t otherwise have that experience. That meant a lot to me,” Bell says.
Minor Shaw, who worked alongside Bell over the years, describes Bell as a tireless advocate for the South Carolina Children’s Theatre.
“Debbie’s passion and vision for what the SCCT could be have been the guiding forces for the volunteers, the staff, parents and children who have all worked together with Debbie to make the [SCCT] what it is today,” Shaw says. “Generations of children and families have benefitted from having this wonderful theater in our community.”
As she approached her 2022 retirement, Bell wanted to ensure that SCCT, now co-led by Katie O’Kelly, managing director, and Matt Giles, artistic director, would have the means to continue pursuing innovative ideas to advance its mission. She and theater leadership worked with the Community Foundation of Greenville to create the Debbie Bell Fund for Artistic Excellence. The fund is dedicated to supporting bold projects that might otherwise be beyond the theater’s reach.
Bell hopes the fund will continue to grow, ensuring the theater’s legacy for future generations.
“I am so thankful to all the donors and friends who have already contributed to the fund,” she says. “I hope that others will join us in supporting the ongoing artistic excellence of SCCT and its mission to impact all children and families in our community through the transformational power of the arts.”
Donations to this fund can be made by visiting the Community Foundation’s website at https://www.cfgreenville.org/giving/donate/ and selecting “Debbie Bell Fund for Artistic Excellence at SC Children’s Theatre.” For more information on SCCT, visit https://scchildrenstheatre.org/.