Thirty years ago Andrew Rawlinson took his first steps into drama when he joined Todmorden Operatic Youth Section (TOYS) to begin rehearsing Bugsy Malone.
It began a life-long interest that has developed into a rewarding career for the Todmordian, who has just stepped up to a top regional position with a national theatre chain.
After a satisfying 18-month stint as general manager of the iconic Liverpool Empire the experienced Rawlinson, who has also run Manchester’s Palace Theatre and Sunderland Empire, has been promoted by the Ambassador Theatre Group to become area manager for the southern ATG venues.
Earlier in his career, Andrew was also chief executive and executive director of Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, Lincolnshire, where he programmed and managed a Grade II listed theatre, cinema and exhibition space built on the remains of an historic Dominican Friary.
His new role means he will be working closely with theatre teams at Aylesbury, Birmingham, Bristol, Bromley, Brighton, Folkstone, Milton Keynes, Woking, Oxford, Torquay, Richmond and Wimbledon.
Since beginning his professional theatre career 13 years ago when he was appointed general manager of Rawtenstall’s Horse + Bamboo Theatre, where he enjoyed spending time in Holland and Germany working on their international touring work. He longed to run and manage his own venue though, leading him to seek pastures new.
It has been a dream come true and he credits those formative years with Todmorden Amateur and Dramatic Society with equipping him with the necessary life skills to succeed at it.
“The theatre has been my life for so long that it’s hard to think of a time when I haven’t been involved.
“I love being a part of the Hippodrome and I would hate to see that link go as the theatre means so much to me and my family,” he said.
He is also pencilled in to direct a production at the “Hipp” in early 2014 and with wife Emily also part of the Hippodrome family it isn’t a link that is in any danger of weakening, despite the demands of Andrew’s new job.
“We are both still involved at the Hippodrome – Emily directing the Youth Theatre, and I still sit on the general committee.
“I am also directing The 39 Steps next February, and am in Under Milk Wood next month, being directed by the wonderful Malcolm Heywood.”
His interest also extends further - Andrew is a board member of Chol Theatre in Huddersfield and also sits on the judging panels at drama festivals.
“I am still managing to adjudicate drama festivals around the country and Ireland; I have three coming up this year in Liverpool, Pendle and Cumbria, which are always good fun.
“It’s marvellous to see great talent being performed in a competitive performance environment.”
Andrew and Emily have a daughter, Emma, seven, and a son, Samuel, three, and moved back to the area - they live just over the Todmorden border at Sharneyford - when he took over as manager at Manchester’s Palace.
He says he owes a debt of gratitude to so many people at the Hippodrome.
It would be impossible to name them all, he says, but they know who they are.
He’s also quite capable at turning his hand to a spot of acting too.
He starred with Joyce Fraser, manning the beer pumps in last June’s production of Two.
The production coincided with the flooding last June and the Hippodrome had to deploy pumps of a different sort as Halifax Road was flooded again when the deluge hit the Calder Valley.
Meanwhile, the new career role is one he has been getting to grips with, and despite covering such a wide area, and in the south, it is proving rewarding and it has not been necessary to uproot his family, with the children at school in Todmorden and Emily teaching at Blessed Trinity School in Burnley and holding an advance skills teacher role, meaning she supports teachers all over Lancashire.
“I am loving the new role; ATG is a fantastic company to work for.
“It’s a real challenge working across 12 sites, but very really interesting and diverse.
“We have a mix of product across the whole estate of theatres, from Lion King opening in Bristol, to a tour of the wonderful comedy play, Maurice’s Jubilee.
“There is quite a bit of travel involved, but modern technology makes the world a small place,” he said.
Hence the family are still based at Sharneyford but have an eye on returning back over the border to Todmorden as Emma and Samuel progress through the school system.
Todmorden is a good place to be if you are interested in the performing arts, said Andrew.
“Todmorden is really bursting with cultural and creative talent, both professional and non professional – we have theatre companies, actors, film makers, directors, artists, poets, composers, singers, writers, musicians, outdoor events artists, dancers and choreographers, all living in Todmorden and spreading their creative endeavours across the country and the world.
“What a place to live, what a community to be part of and be proud of. As Emily and I stand in the school playground at Castle Hill waiting for Emma, we look around and see artistic directors, sculptors, actors, television presenters, theatre professionals, performers, photographers and writers.
“You could never say it was boring standing waiting for your children to come out of school!”
ATG is the largest owner-operator of theatres in the UK with 39 venues, including the Liverpool Empire where Andrew has clearly enjoyed his time.
ATG was co-founded by Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire in 1992 and was well as being an internationally recognised theatre producer also runs a theatre ticketing service, ATG Tickets.