Nick Wells from The Apex in Bury St Edmunds was kind enough to answer some of our questions, just as the doors of the venue have reopened, to fill us in on how things have been going and the future plans.
First up, let’s have a bit of an introduction – tell us a bit about yourself and your role at The Apex…
I’m Nick Wells and I’m responsible for all the programming at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds.
Has live entertainment and the arts always been in your life, and how did you get into it?
Yes it has really. I learnt the piano and trombone from the age of 11 and had a great musical life at school before going on to do a music degree. My first job in the arts world was at Eastern Arts in Cambridge (now the Arts Council) and then, through seizing various opportunities over the years, I arrived in Bury St Edmunds where I now have the complete pleasure of working at The Apex.
We know it’s been an incredibly tough year for the arts, but what have you been doing behind the scenes to keep busy?
I have spent a lot of time liaising with artists and agents and postponing shows – some of them several times. It has given us the opportunity to look at what we do and how we do it and fine tune a few things. We were also able to enjoy a few cultural gems over the last year in between lockdowns – Luke Jerram’s Gaia installation at The Apex in October 2020 was amazing and was enjoyed by c.13,000 people over 2 weeks; and we also hosted violinist Tasmin Little’s final ever public performance which was an honour and extremely emotional.
Were you fortunate enough to receive any grants or funding – if you were, how beneficial is such support?
We were delighted to receive a grant from the Arts Council from the Cultural Recovery Fund and that has been really important to us. The Apex is owned and managed by West Suffolk Council who have remained extremely supportive and recognise that The Apex has an important role in the life of the town centre.
How have you found the move to digital – have you used it to your advantage at all and do you think its positive thing for the industry?
We worked with a number of promoters to sell tickets for several streamed events in the Autumn and some of these were very well received. It was a good way for us to keep in touch with audience members and also helped a number of performers get some much-needed income. Live streams have worked really well for some organisations, particularly those who produce their own work and mean that they have been able to reach whole new audiences, often all around the world.
You have just reopened with a socially distanced season – can you tell us a bit more about it, and how has it been so far?
We have just done our first gig of the year – the Yiddish Twist Orchestra – to a socially distanced, capacity audience. It was also the band’s first gig of the year and it felt very special to have musicians and an audience in The Apex. We have a handful of other shows coming up – Suffolk singer-songwriter Bessie Turner also played for us over the late May bank holiday too. Richard Digance is coming in to do four gigs in two days. Jazz vocalist Joanna Eden is bringing her band and we have the wonderful Cuban-born jazz violinist Omar Puente bringing his band. Ticket sales have been pretty strong and I think people are generally delighted to be able to come out and see some great music.
What safety measures do you have in place?
The team here have worked extremely hard to make sure that the audience feel safe. We are still maintaining 2 metres social distancing and while it means that we can’t get a huge number of people in, it does mean that we are keeping people safe. There is a one-way system in place to go in and out of the building and also the auditorium; there is regular cleaning; hand sanitizer stations are placed at key locations; people are asked to wear face coverings and track and trace is in place. Several people have commented about how safe they have felt coming here.
Do you have any other exciting plans or projects?
We are keeping everything crossed that we will be able to open at full capacity from 21 June and if so, we are really looking forward to welcoming the Aurora Orchestra with Nicola Benedetti at the beginning of July. And then as we go into the Autumn the programme gets extremely busy; there is a lot on sale now and there are some things in the pipeline that will be great if I can get them over the line.
While we await the full-scale return of live shows or to those that may be sceptical to return just yet, what would you suggest fans of the arts can do to keep supporting the industry?
Venues everywhere are working extremely hard to ensure that people are safe and if you are concerned then do get in touch with them and I am sure they will be happy to explain what measures they have in place. Our experience so far has been that people have enjoyed coming out and performers and venue staff alike have been delighted to welcome the audience in. I have enjoyed some great art and culture on the television and have thrown myself into my fair share of box sets and films, but nothing beats the shared experience of enjoying something live in a great venue.
Thank you to Nick for his time.
For updates on the latest news and shows at The Apex, be sure to visit www.theapex.co.uk.