Cleveland Public Theatre was founded in 1982 by Cleveland native James Levin. From its early years, CPT was instrumental in promoting, creating, and providing a home for experimental theater in the Cleveland area. Initially sparking interest in local theater through productions such as Shakespeare at the Zoo and the New Plays Festival, the focus of CPT gravitated toward the latter by the late 1980's. Over the next decade, the theater would make a name for itself both within and outside of Cleveland as a stage for original works by contemporary artists.
Ingrained into the mission of the theater is the belief that art can not only change individual lives, but that the theater can be a means to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. Beyond providing a space and forum for local artists to perform and display their work, CPT developed urban outreach programs that provide educational services to at-risk youth and homeless adults. In addition, the success of Cleveland Public Theatre helped set the stage for the transformation of the surrounding neighborhood into an emerging arts district. Working in collaboration with other community organizations, Cleveland Public Theater has played a key role in promoting the commercial and economic development of what is now the Gordon Square Arts District.