The fifteenth of the month is approaching, and the arts community in PEI knows what that means: time to get your act together to meet The Buzz deadline, if you want to get the word out. The date is circled in red in every cultural event planner’s mental calendar.
Back in March, as lockdown loomed on March 15, Peter and Nancy Richards put the finishing touches on their last edition of The Buzz as owner-editors and in uncertain times turned the buzzing over to the next generation. Until April, Peter had co-founded The Buzz in 1993 and was managing editor; Nancy had started working for the monthly newspaper in 1996 and was still playing a key editorial role, condensing and balancing content from hundreds of news releases and notices. And yet, “After six months,” Peter says, “the fifteenth is just like any other day.” Nancy smiles, “It’s nothing to do with us.”
“I will say it took a while to get released from that schedule,” Peter admits, while Nancy confesses (surprisingly vehemently after almost 25 years in a deadline-driven job), “I don’t enjoy working under pressure.”
What redeemed the pressure for Nancy? She says, “It was a joy to know what events were planned for the month.” But, she adds, “I would reach a point and say, ‘There’s the perfect Buzz, there it is.’” And still more information would flow in. Peter smiles, “At one point in the month, Nancy would say, ‘Peter, there is too much stuff for this month’s Buzz.’ And I would say, ‘Great.’” The goal, he says, “was always to fit everything in, and 99 percent of the time we did that.”
Peter says The Buzz was always designed to reach “a broad spectrum of the community. We wanted to respect the intelligence and experience of readers, and live up to the expectations of readers.” Nancy worked with an audience in mind of “people interested in the culture around them, not the people who want to stay home and not be involved in their community.” Turning to Peter, Nancy says, “When you and Derek [Martin] started, you looked for what would make the community better.”
Peter recalls, “I was involved in the arts community already, and there was a level of activity you couldn’t deny, in all the arts. But there was a feeling we couldn’t get the word out well.” Nancy remembers, “When The Buzz first started there wasn’t even email. Everything came in on paper. Stuff would come in on napkins. Peter was not only selling ads, doing the layout, and taking photos, but also typing and editing. When I took over typing [in 1996], that was when email began.”
Peter says, “It was like putting one brick on top of another, in all directions… We just grew with it; The Buzz was growing in response to the arts community.” Nancy agrees, “At a certain point, we would have to change our ways of doing things to respond.”
About the arts community, “One of the things,” Peter observes, “is that it’s accessible… People have their enterprises they are trying to build, but there is a spirit of openness. I saw it at the beginning, and maybe I didn’t know any better: I just thought, of course musicians will want to know about theatre, of course theatre people will want to know what film is on at City Cinema.”
Nancy values in the PEI arts community “the mix of local events and things coming in from outside… Amazing artists and performers who come to the Island.” The Buzz placed notices of local, national and international side by side. Peter agrees, “That is part of our self-imposed mandate to be inclusive and to treat the local event at the same attention as the national, higher profile one.” He says, “You might look through for the Tuesday night ceilidh, but you would see everything else going on.”
Both Peter and Nancy could name many highlights of their Buzz careers. Nancy says, “I always enjoyed it when you would hear someone say so-and-so moved to the Island because they were given a copy of The Buzz and saw what was happening.”
Generously, Peter says, “One of the best things in all the experiences was meeting the people who became our regular contributors.” Nancy agrees, “It was a monthly treat to see each article come in.”
Both Peter and Nancy witnessed incredible momentum build in PEI culture. Recent peaks in the tourism industry, they said, were “sold so much on culture.” Nancy recalls noticing that suddenly, as she put listings together, “The headliners and stars were all Islanders.” Peter agrees, that, yes, “The lead roles on the big stages, the production roles, the direction roles, the behind-the-scenes roles, were Islanders.” They concur, “It wasn’t like that when we started.”
And while neither Peter nor Nancy is sure what COVID-19 will mean for the momentum that had built in the arts community, both are optimistic. Nancy says a little wistfully, “The sad thing is, you could feel as The Buzz started, a lot of other things started,” and just as she and Peter were retiring, many institutions of the same vintage “were ending, or starting in a new form—and [when COVID hit] there were so many young people about to do their next big thing.”
Peter agrees, the new generation faces an unexpected challenge. But, he says, “I am optimistic. The reason the PEI arts community flourished [in the past] is that the people who lived here made it happen. It grew out of the community at its roots. You could get an audience in PEI, even out of a small population.” Nancy nods. “The Island supports local really well,” she says. And Peter concludes, “It’s a strong community.”
Neither adds, with a way to find out what’s going on in the community month to month, but they are more than proud a new generation is keeping the buzz going. “We are Buzz readers now,” they say appreciatively.