The Los Alamos Little Theatre was founded in 1943 during the Manhattan Project. As late charter member John Mench related in a 2003 interview “… you could only watch so many movies without getting movie happy. So we would send away for plays to dramatists and play services and get scripts, and we would read them and act out scenes. And this was usually attended by a lot of the scientists and many of the GIs and myself because I had already had considerable experience in theater and was very interested in it. And this was the beginning of the first organization in Los Alamos, the Los Alamos Little Theatre. At the end of 1943, we did a play called “Right About Face,” which was the first play ever done in the city of Los Alamos. This sort of activity knit together the civilian population and the military to a great extent, and this resulted in a more harmonious community between the two of us—it brought us together.”
LALT presented its first seven productions during the war, including Arsenic and Old Lace which featured Director Robert Oppenheimer in a non-speaking role. After the war, from 1946 to 1973, we continued regular theatrical productions utilizing a number of venues including the Civic (now Duane Smith) Auditorium, Fuller Lodge, the Don Juan Playhouse, and various gyms and churches. During this 26 year period we presented over 125 local productions.
In 1971 Los Alamos County planned to tear down the old East Mess Hall. The building had been constructed during the Manhattan Project and then converted to a recreation hall after the war. LALT recognized the possibility of converting the building into a small theater and proposed that it be allowed to recycle the building for that purpose. After much discussion the County Council decided not only to allow us the use of the building, but to also provide the $6,000 that had been allocated for demolition as a credit for building materials.
LALT’s agreement with the County was that we would convert the building into a Performing Arts Center (PAC) and begin producing plays as soon as possible. The basic form of the agreement, which persists to this day, was that LALT would operate the PAC on behalf of the County and be responsible for operational, maintenance, landscaping, and utility costs. After a considerable renovation effort, we opened the PAC in January 1973 with a production of the melodrama Ten Nights in a Barroom. Since 1973 we have presented over 230 local productions at the PAC.