The Guild of Players was formed in 1913, making it one of the oldest amateur dramatic companies in Scotland. The Guild was formed, as noted in the minutes of an early meeting, ‘to promote an improvement in the public attitude towards, and taste for, the drama, by means of plays of outstanding merit, by lectures, readings, and in any other way which might commend itself to the Directors.’
This early Guild held regular performances at various locations around Dumfries, touring school and church halls, the Old Assembly Rooms on George Street and even open air pageants in Castledykes Park. The Guild moved premises several times until 1943 when they moved into the Little Theatre at 15 Shakespeare Street.
In 1952 the Guild evolved into the society that it most closely resembles today, when Herbert Milne, then headmaster of Dumfries High School, suggested that the Guild put on plays on a repertory basis. The Guild agreed to a season of five plays a year, each running for six nights; a model that has changed very little today.
In the late 1950s, Dumfries began redeveloping buildings along Shakespeare Street. Aware that their Little Theatre was standing in the way of this development, the Guild began searching for new premises. Several disused buildings in town were considered, including a church, a synagogue and an old mill. They had settled on a disused wash-house on Burns Street when it was suggested that they attempt to buy the Theatre Royal instead. Since the building had been empty for several years, the Guild managed to strike a very affordable deal and began refurbishment in 1959.
The building was refurbished under the supervision of Guild Master Percy Hopkins and local architect Colin Morton. The refurbishment maintained as much of the existing décor as possible but made drastic changes to the stage and auditorium which had both been drastically altered when the building was converted into a cinema.
The Guild have been performing in the Theatre Royal ever since, putting on a regular season of five shows and a Christmas Pantomime, as well as starting the Junior Guild to encourage younger members of the community to participate. The Guild’s most recent activities have seen a further refurbishment and expansion of the theatre, restoring and expanding the building to provide a much-improved facility.
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