In October of 1918, a group of civic-minded community members founded the Tacoma Chapter of the Drama League of America (known as the "Tacoma Drama League" or sometimes as the "Civic Drama League"). The Drama League of America sought to promote theater, the study of theatrical literature and culture as a means of community building and individual enrichment. Many chapters were started across the United States during the years surrounding the first World War. The Tacoma Chapter comprised the Civic Drama School and Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT); the Drama League providing oversight and governance.
While TLT's first fully-realized production was not until December 1919, a production of George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell, the time from 1918 to 1919 was filled with classes, play reading and study. Persistent commitment to the pursuit of artistry and quality community involvement has been the hallmark of the TLT story. While some gaps may be found - for example due to the Great Depression and World War II, organizational activity has never ceased since those early days.
The 1920s saw TLT moving into its first permanent home in the "new gymnasium" at the Annie Wright Seminary, located at North First and Division Avenue, in the area now at the heart of the Stadium Business District. The first performances in the new space were held on December 11, 1925 with a program featuring Booth Tarkington's The Trysting Place, John Millington Synge's Riders to the Sea, and Kenneth Raisbeck's Torches.
1927 was a banner year for the young company. First came a production of Stephen Phillip's tragic drama Paolo and Francesca which opened on February 12, 1927. Based on the tale from 13th C Italy, the play further interpreted the story treated in Dante's Inferno, and rendered in paint by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1855). It was reported at the time to be the "greatest single accomplishment of the Tacoma Drama League to date, a milestone..." Local critics lavished praise; the four performances in the 400-seat Little Theatre (the highest number for a single production at that time) quickly sold out; and a fifth performance had to be added. It was typical for the plays presented at TLT to appear within 2-4 years after their debut productions in New York.
That summer, the national convention of The Drama League of America convened in Tacoma from June 27th through July 2nd. In his The History of Tacoma Little Theatre, 1918-1932, Stanley Denton Elberson reports, "...the convention would provide an unequaled opportunity for discussion of all phases of theatre," indicating a comprehensive range of topics. Also planned into convention activities were special excursions, and a special train car was booked from Chicago to Tacoma just to convey attendees to the convention. It would be over eight decades before any comparable convocation would return to Tacoma.