Tacoma history on stage

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Beyond the gritty headlines and hand-wringing about crime and homelessness in Tacoma, there are those who have a far higher vision of what we in Tacoma can do and become.

Did you know, for example, that Tacoma hosts an independent opera company (that has been performing since 1968) and a more recent (founded in 2011) incarnation of independent live theater? In each case we in Tacoma have a unique opportunity to participate in and support local live theater.


Dukesbay Productions presents the 19th Century thriller the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Louis Stevenson is perhaps best known for his book Treasure Island. He was Scottish and got most of his inspiration for his books and stories from his dreams – the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to him from a series of particularly troubling dreams.

The story, in case you forgot, is of a respectable member of society who, by certain voluntary means, embodies has latent evil. We each, the story presumes, have access to greater good – and greater evil than we might have imagined.

The Dukesbay performance space is tiny, but the passion and love for live theater is tangible. Be prepared for an intimate, unforgettable performance.

The Dukesbay Theater is located on the third floor in the historic Merlino Art Center building above the Grand Cinema. Access is via the side (6th Avenue) entrance. All patrons must be able to ascend a long staircase leading to the theater as there is no elevator in the building. Please use a mask while in the theater.

Show times are weekends March 10 – 26, 2023. The Dukesbay Theater, 508 Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, WA 98402. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm.

Tacoma Opera

Tacoma Opera offers something truly rare in Tacoma – a world premier opera. This one is based on a key incident in Tacoma’s history, an event that defined our city for decades and still lingers in the memories of many across Asia.

On November 3, 1885, a mob composed of several hundred men hounded, harassed and expelled the Chinese community of Tacoma, when Washington was still a territory. The men then burned down their housing and stole anything of value. A few opposed the mob action (including the minister of First Presbyterian Church, where many of the mob/city fathers attended).

Like other acts of anti-Chinese violence across North America in the late nineteenth century, this expulsion was a highly-coordinated act of violence that was led primarily by city leaders – including the sitting mayor. You can see more on the background of the carrying out of the “Tacoma Method” here.

Many of the first generation of Chinese immigrants worked originally for the Northern Pacific Railroad and later in local fish canneries, lumber camps, sawmills, coal mines, and hop farms.

By 1885 Tacoma’s population had grown to slightly less than 7,000, about 700 were Chinese.

Today we might call this vigilantism or even ethnic cleansing. But whatever we call it, it was racism and violence unleashed to a degree new to a burgeoning city.

As you might guess, this is why Tacoma (unlike Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Victoria and many other cities) does not have a “China-town” district.

This act of violence, while cheered by many at the time, negatively impacted Tacoma’s reputation and economic opportunities for decades. The perpetrators were, as you might have imagined, never prosecuted.

This opera is composed by Gregory Youtz, Professor of Music at PLU with libretto by Zhang Er. You can catch the performance March 31 and April 1, at 7:00 pm, and April 2, at 2:00 pm, at the historic Rialto Theatre, Downtown Tacoma, 310 9th St, Tacoma, WA 98402. Find out more about future productions of Tacoma Opera here.


In both productions, one based on a fictional account, the other literally based on our own local and not too distant history, we see violence and destructiveness surging from the protective veneer of presumed respectability.

We don’t see many criminals in suave dinner jackets, but we certainly see public figures and cable television networks promoting deception, division, even civil war and, of course, seemingly uncontrollable crime and violence on our streets and public venues.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” was the refrain in many movies and novels of a previous era. There is nothing new about corruption and sheer evil behind clean and polished presentations – but it is still, and apparently always will be, news.