In a little under two weeks, the charity show, Unite 2012, is coming to the Millfield Theatre.  This will be Matt Herd’s third major charity production – the fourth if you count Tottenham’s Got Talent, which wouldn’t have been possible without his contacts, expertise and hard work.  This time, he’s working alongside his fiancée Claire O’Mahony in aid of The Nightingale Cancer Support Centre, and I’ve spoken to them both about it about it.

Matt, this isn’t your first charity show.  How did you start out?

MH: I first started this process in 2004 with my show ‘Faith’ which was for Shelter, we raised £1000 in the one night at the Gladys Aylward Theatre. I then changed the name of the show to Unite and in 2008 we used the Gladys Aylward again to raise £1300 for the British Red Cross Chinese Earthquake Appeal. Unite 2008 was put together from conception to completion in just over 6 weeks.

What made you put together your first show?

MH: I was watching a programme on the perception and reality of homeless people. I was shocked about the number of people who were homeless through through things like redundancy, divorce and illness. The programme followed a man whose wife had left him and who got into a spiral of depression, lost his job and ultimately his home. Unfortunately the perception of homeless people is that it’s through drink and drugs and that just isn’t the case. This programme inspired to do the small part I could, and that was to raise money for Shelter.

What was the experience of putting together that show like?

MH: When I produced Faith I was only 22, I didn’t have much experience in the whole production process and it was a very steep learning curve! It was a very stressful time, but a very successful time. I sold out all three performances – I was even selling standing tickets.

The one thing I would say I learned that was vital in Unite 2008, and will be in Unite 2012, was keeping the show fun, fast and engaging to the audience. In Faith 2004 I promised too many people they could be involved and it was a longer show than I expected. Producing a show is a huge task and I handled everything, up until the opening night when I had helpers. I organised all the acts, advertising, theatre bookings, seating plans, I printed all the tickets and took all the bookings.  You name it I did it. Its made me realise that asking for help is a necessity for a successful show.

After all that hassle, what made you do it again, and again, and to get involved with Tottenham’s Got Talent as well?

MH: Since Faith 2004 I have been very lucky to move into the professional event industry, and now run my own business, MH Technical Solutions.  I have been privileged to be involved in large scale national and international events. The buzz of seeing the event take place, whether it be a conference, band, party or theatre show never goes. I have seen some amazing things in amazing places that most people will never even see. I hope that one day I can bring some of these elements to Unite.

I was told about Tottenham’s Got Talent via St Monica’s Players, who had been asked. They were looking for people to help out on the night. Originally a few of us just offered to help out on the night, but it soon became clear that our experience would prove vital on the night and our skills and experience would give a much better show. When the Bernie Grant Arts Centre pulled out, I spoke to Millfield Arts Centre, who were very generous in giving us the theatre and technical services for free. I live in Tottenham and the riots were only a few streets away from me. All of the charity shows I produce or am involved in are a way for me to give back to a charity that has been involved in my life or a community I am a part of. The beneficiary this year is The Nightingale Cancer Support Centre. All profits from the show will be donated directly to Nightingale.  All of the cast and crew involved in putting on Unite are donating their time for free.

I am very lucky this time to have the help of my fiancée Claire O’Mahony who is directing the Saturday show and sharing the load with me!

Claire, what did you want to go and do something like that for?

CO: As cheesy as it sounds, my Dad is my inspiration. My Dad helped found the Nightingale Cancer Support Centre in 2002 along with Andy Bone, Teresa Aylott and the man who originally had the idea, Bishop John Arnold. I know his reason was that, as a GP, he had to watch a lot of cancer sufferers and their families slip through the established care system, and that he felt something needed to be done. I think it’s incredible that he has spent his whole career dedicated to helping and caring for others and then also gives up his spare time to continue to do this outside of work. Both Matt and I were born and grew up in Enfield, and I would like to think that if any of our friends or family ever need the services of the Nightingale that it will still be going strong.

Tell us about the shows.

MH: For the first time, Unite 2012 will be spread over two nights.  On Friday 17th February we have a new spectacular performance from the Shaolin Warriors, Shaolin Elements. Semi-finalists in Britain’s Got Talent, and with a follow-up show “Kung Fu changed my life” on Sky1 HD last August, this show is one of the hottest tickets around. Once you watch the trailer for the show I guarantee you’ll want to come and see it!

Saturday 18th Feb, directed by Claire, brings back our popular and long-standing tradition of amateur companies coming together on one stage, for one night, for one cause. Acts confirmed so far are St Monica’s Players, Acorn Theatre Company, Finchley and Friern Barnet Operatic Society and Enfield Light Operatic and Dramatic Society.  We also have Enfield Blaze Cheerleading squad, a family friendly burlesque act, and Enfield’s new performing arts school, Ministry of Expression. Alongside these we have the official Glee Tribute Act in the UK, The Gleeks, and the fabulous Dave Short compering .

Based on previous nights like this, it will be an amazing night of entertainment, with audiences enjoying every second.

Claire, is it the first time you’ve directed anything like this?

CO: This is my “Directorial Debut”!  I’m taking more of a coordination role. Matt is dealing with all of the technical aspects of the show, and the groups are managing their own artistic content, so I am more of a go-between to keep everyone informed and organised.

Is it hard to convince acts to get involved?  Especially nationally famous acts like the Shaolin Warriors?

MH: Most amateur and semi professional acts are very open to getting involved. Both Faith 2004 and Unite 2008 were very lucky to have some great local talent involved. Having worked in theatre and the arts for a long time I have been lucky to have met some amazing and talented people. I worked with the Shaolin Warriors a few times when they first started performing in Hertfordshire and through a mutual friend they have kindly offered to perform their new 90 minute show on the Friday night. Asking a professional act or celebrity is something that I’m used to. I think understanding that we are asking them to do their job for free makes us approach things differently, and is why a lot of people perform for us.

What exactly is a family-friendly burlesque act?

MH: [Laughs] This is a tough question. By nature, a burlesque performance often involves an adult theme. The people who are performing for us are aware that Unite is a family audience and they have toned their dances and costumes down to ensure that no offence is caused.

How can people get involved?

If you can’t come on the night, you can still donate via our JustGiving page or by texting UNTE99 followed by the amount (e.g. £5) to 70070. We are looking to break the £2000 barrier to give to Nightingale, but it will only be possible with support from the local community.

Unite 2012 is at Millfield Arts Centre, Silver Street, Edmonton [map] 17th and 18th February at 7.30pm. Tickets: £12 (£10), £35 family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) from the Millfield Box Office or www.shaolin-warriors.co.uk.

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