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Off Stage Choices - Andrew Rawlinson recounts his theatre experience from Tod Operatic to General Manager of a leading Theatre Group.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

One of Todmorden's own, well-known to many in the town, was the guest speaker at the AGM and June general meeting of Todmorden U3A. Andrew Rawlinson, of Todmorden Hippodrome and many other theatrical venues, was the person in question, entitling his talk “Off Stage Choices”. Like many before him, Andrew's first encounter with theatre was in his primary school nativity play, in his case, at Shade. It was here that his “passion for theatre was ignited”. In 1983, whilst at Tod High, he encountered Todmorden Youth Operatic Section which was a turning point in his life, he told his audience.

It was here he learned discipline, grew in confidence and learned valuable life skills. As well as acting, Andrew took on the gamut of back stage work, familiarising himself with all that went into creating a stage production. Despite all this, a career in theatre didn't immediately open up before him when it was time for him to leave school. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do despite having been on a week-long drama course run by Bristol University and being told by one of the course tutors that he would be supported in any application to study drama there if he chose. Andrew chose the safe option of a post with Sutcliffe furniture makers.

It was while working at Sutcliffe that Andrew took his next step leading to his career in theatre. He and a friend organised a murder mystery event at Todmorden Old Hall to raise money for charity. Such was its success, Andrew decided to form a company to put on murder mystery parties, aided by financial support from local people. The venture was a success and for a while Andrew continued in his job at Sutcliffe. He left Sutcliffe when he took over the running of Walsden Post Office when his father retired from that role. Andrew also became involved in local radio in Calderdale and Burnley, expanding his range of experience.

The Post Office was not providing the challenge that Andrew wanted and when the Arts Council announced that it believed that arts organisations needed to get to grips with the business aspects of their work, and were offering training in this area, Andrew accepted the offer. He had a spell with Horse and Bamboo Theatre (still going strong in their base in Waterfoot). During this time, Andrew told how he was involved in a project with children with learning disabilities. In an activity with colleagues dress as friendly, interactive animals and insects, colleague of his was dressed as a Queen Bee and buzzed around a young boy who had not hitherto reacted to anything. The boy immediately responded and Andrew spent the rest of the time “buzzing” this boy in various ways. Andrew said that it was a moving experience for him and taught him how sensitive performance can impact on such lives.

Andrew's next step was to answer a call to manage Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, Lincs. This gave him an opportunity to direct as well as experience of running a theatre. This led Andrew to the post of General Manager of the Palace Theatre, Manchester. He told his audience he loved his job so much that he felt a wave of excitement each time he approached the entrance to start his day's work. He was now encountering stars and told how he was approached by a red top newspaper with an offer of £5,000 for some tattle about particular celebrity. He turned it down. All he earned was that direct experience of how some sections of the press work.

Andrew warned about meeting one's heroes, in his case, Tommy Steele. He knocked on the star's dressing room and bidden to enter found him in string vest and “Y”-fronts. Enough said. Andrew had other stories to tell, notably of Peter Kay, someone he is occasionally mistaken for, Andrew being of a similar build. He told of his first insight into what it is to be a public figure. He was with Peter on one occasion when he was spotted by the public. The way Andrew told it, it was as if some force was sucking a mob of people towards them. Andrew found the experience disturbing.

Following stints managing Sunderland Empire and Liverpool Empire successively, Andrew is now General Manager of Ambassador Theatre Group, the UK’s largest theatre group with a total of 40 venues in Britain and on Broadway and an internationally recognised award-winning theatre producer with co-productions in New York, across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. A wonderful job but one which has taken him further away from that which made him fall in love with theatre in the first place. His ambition now is to produce shows. From time to time in his talk Andrew would express his gratitude to those in Todmorden who had taught him in his early days in theatre and enabled him to achieve what he has. Some of them were present in the audience.

The new Vice-Chairman, Jean Pearson moved the vote of thanks and presented Andrew with the customary token of appreciation for a talk which both amused and fascinated his audience.

The AGM preceded Andrew's talk and Chairman David Cross was re-elected unopposed; a new Vice-Chairman, Jean Pearson was elected; Membership Secretary, Margaret Dunill, and Roger Howard, Vice-Treasurer. All unopposed.


The University of the Third Age meets at 1.45 at Central Methodists in Todmorden on the third Thursday of every month - find out about all of its activities at www.u3atod.org.uk

Many thanks to John Bouttell for this report



Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

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HebWeb News: Changing Times in the Press (March 2013)

HebWeb News: Cancer from Both Sides (Nov 2012)

HebWeb News: Steve Halliwell outlined the history of the Woodland Trust (Sept 2012)

HebWeb News: Ray Riches talks on Walking the Pacific Crest Trail (Aug 2012)

HebWeb News: Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison (July 2012)

HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)

HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)

HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant

HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance

HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century

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