Gavella Drama Theater – initially called Zagreb Drama Theater – was founded in 1953 by a group of young actors and directors with the local branch of Croatian National Theater, with the desire to promote the possibility for a different kind of theater, in contrast to the traditional repertoire of the mother theater. This idea was conceived by Dr. Branko Gavella (Zagreb, 1885–1962), theater director, manager, pedagogue, theatrologist, theater critic and translator. Gavella directed the first play held at the newly established theater's venue in Frankopanska ulica 10, which was Golgotha by Miroslav Krleža.

Since then, Gavella Drama Theater – which was renamed to honor its originator and first director in 1992 – has grown to become one of the most respected and consistent theater companies in Croatia. Critics agree that its most notable feature is the concept of "collective acting", a legacy of Gavella, but also its well thought-out venue, which makes way for actors' individuality in play staging.

To commemorate Branko Gavella – who put up almost three hundred plays in Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Italy – Gavella Evenings have been held since 1973. Barring an interruption from 1991 to 2005, this is an event that gathers public national and city theaters from Croatia (and the region as well since 2014) and where individual and collective theater awards are presented to nominees in a competitive selection of dramatic plays.