Theatre at the University of Tennessee began in 1939 when Dr. Paul Soper, a teacher in the English Department, was appointed Theatre Director in 1939. In 1940-41, he laid the foundation for the current program and introduced a one-year Theatre course offering the study of acting, stagecraft, play interpretation, and directing.
As the program grew, so did the need for a performance space. The summer of 1951 saw the University, the Junior League, and other community volunteers erect a tent and name it the Carousel Theatre, based on its arena design. In December of 1951, UT trustees approved financing for an actual building based on the design of the Carousel tent.
Over the next two decades, the Carousel Theatre program expanded to include thirteen productions annually. The department produced more than 200 shows and total attendance was more than 70,000 patrons. In November of 1970 and through the generous support of Clarence Brown, legendary filmmaker and 1910 alumnus of the University of Tennessee, the Clarence Brown Theatre for the Performing Arts at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was formally dedicated.