Foundation gifts help raise the curtain on South Carolina Children’s Theatre’s new home

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New South Carolina Children's Theatre campus. Renderings by Craig Gaulden Davis

Some say that all the world’s a stage, but after decades of performing in borrowed venues, South Carolina Children’s Theatre is going to have a dedicated stage of its own—two in fact, along with education, office, and event space.

SCCT broke ground in September for the Theatre & Arts Education Center for Children, a 37,000 square-foot facility located at 153 Augusta St. The footings are poured and the walls are about to go up, according to Debbie Bell, executive director. Construction is expected to take about 15 months.

“We’re so excited. We’ve never had our own house theatre, so we’re thrilled to have a main stage with 300 seats and a second stage with over 100 seats,” Bell said. “Having space for education and offices all right there together will mean the world to us. We can rehearse on our own stage, and build the sets where they will be used, without having to load and move them.”

Planning began in 2015, and the group has raised over $12 million of a $12.8 million capital campaign that began with large donations from philanthropic organizations, corporations and individuals. Now in its public phase, the campaign is accepting donations of any amount, and offering the option to honor someone with their name on a chair for commitments of $2,500.

“The community has been amazing, and we’re getting closer and closer to our goal,” Bell said. “The early pace-setting gifts mean so much, and the Community Foundation was one of the first that believed in us.”

Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation, said it was no surprise that local
foundations were eager to support SCCT’s capital campaign.

“We understand how important it is to integrate art in the the lives of children, and they reach children throughout the Upstate,” Morris said. “They always offer quality programming and get great participation from families. But their need for space was limiting what they can do.”

The new space will allow the group to do more of everything they do best, Bell said, including classes, field-trips, and school tours. The building will enable sensory-friendly programming for special needs children and convenient wheelchair access for guests. Young adults with special needs will find added opportunities to train for rewarding behind-the-scenes jobs.

Board chair Katy Smith knows first-hand the impact quality theatre experiences can have on children and families. Her daughter, Lila, first encountered SCCT as a toddler taking Kindermusik classes and later, acting classes. She became so enchanted by the stage productions she saw as a young child that she was determined to appear in one, auditioning six times before finally landing a role. Now a student at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, she plans to pursue a career in the performing arts.

“The Children’s Theatre brings together children from all different backgrounds, and gave us incredible times together as a family, volunteering or seeing shows,” Smith said. “In addition to learning about elements of literature like symbolism and metaphor, children learn valuable life lessons, like empathy, the value of practice, and accountability to their fellow cast members.”

Bell said the new headquarters will be full of color and fun, providing another artistic destination for Greenville’s West End.

“I”m blown away not only by the project, but by how the community has supported us while we build. This year we’ve operated on a shoestring, and still this fall was the best season we’ve ever had,” she said. “After 30 years of waiting, this building is a dream come true, not only appropriate for our needs now, but to take us into the next 50 years and beyond.”

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