In the 1780s, actor-manager George Stephen Sutherland took it upon himself to campaign for the construction of a theatre in the town of Dumfries. This was met with great enthusiasm by the townsfolk as they were keen to provide entertainment for visitors such as the Caledonian Hunt.
Designed by local architect Thomas Boyd, the theatre began construction in 1790 and was inspired by the Theatres Royal in Bristol and Edinburgh. Completed at a cost of £800, it opened its doors on the 29th September 1792. At that time, the auditorium could hold up to 600 people, many of whom would have owned a subscriber’s token. This token granted the bearer entry to any performance as a thank you for helping fund the theatre’s construction.
Scotland’s national poet was very heavily involved in the construction of a theatre while he lived in Dumfries. While he could not contribute financially, his talents and connections certainly proved invaluable.
Burns wrote several pieces for performance on the stage, including A Scots Prologue which was performed at a fundraiser for the new theatre. He also wrote The Rights of Women for Louise Fontanelle when she performed in Dumfries’ newly opened theatre in 1792. He also managed to contribute to the theatre through his friendships with other artists. The original stock scenery for the New Theatre was painted by Alexander Nasmyth after Burns recommended him.