Bob Wiseman sits in the Tranzac Club’s Main Hall, while a group soundchecks on the stage. Photo by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.
The Tranzac Club still has money woes, though things are looking up for the new year. While the Annex staple is raising money to cover its current operating deficit, Torontoist is conducting a series of interviews with musicians who have close ties to it. Up today: Bob Wiseman, a veteran musician and filmmaker with ties to Toronto’s independent music, film, and comedy scenes. He’s played in the past with Blue Rodeo and The Hidden Cameras, and his solo musical work spans more than twenty-five years; his album In Her Dream: Bob Wiseman Sings Wrench Tuttle, was recently given a twentieth anniversary re-release by Blocks Recording Club, a co-operative label Wiseman is on the board of directors for. Wiseman is also a board member of the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto, The Toronto Animated Image Society, and The Tranzac Club itself.
BOB WISEMAN: There’s been some hurdles this last year at The Tranzac Club. The summer was slow, and losing the Fringe was difficult, as that was a guaranteed deal, and there were other benefits to the Fringe being here… it was really a drag when the Fringe left, to go to Honest Ed land, but so it goes.
There’s been maintenance issues recently with the building, too; the furnace broke about nine months ago, so that was eight grand right there; that torpedoed the reserve fund.
At the same time, the Tranzac has acquired—finally [laughs]—parking. People just parked on the lot all the time; now it’s a paid parking zone, so that’s created some revenue for the club.
The thing, I think, is that a lot of the people who utilize the Tranzac don’t grasp that there’s memberships. [Laughs.] A lot of the older people here know about that, about keeping something alive. There’s a lot of people who love this place, but don’t know about the club [being a co-op], and that’s how this situation could improve. People can get memberships, and become participatory, and help sustain the Tranzac. It needs more, of course, than just the base twenty-five-dollar memberships, but those are a great place to start.
The Tranzac is a really charming and remarkable place in the midst of Toronto, because it feels like you’re in a small town when you come in here.
TORONTOIST: Yeah, that’s come up a lot; it has that “cottage” feel.
So, how do you see the Tranzac transitioning? When it was older, it was primarily about promoting Australian and New Zealand culture, and now, that’s less important in the mandate.
BW: Well, those are its origins, which are cool, but it couldn’t survive on that.
I offered to become part of the board because of my work with Blocks Recording Club, which had been renting space here since 2003. The board reached out to us, asking us to be involved in the Tranzac more, and I volunteered to be a liaison between Blocks and the Tranzac. The result has been a steep learning curve for me, trying to grasp the history and current perspective of the club.
I think why it’s survived is that it morphed to become something more than just an Australian and New Zealand club. It expanded its mandate to become an inclusive performance space, and made itself available to all the wild variety that exists here; the indie rock, the folk, the jazz, the Zine Library upstairs (which is fascinating). There are other artists who rent space upstairs, like Victor Bateman, the jazz and country musician.
TORONTOIST: Councillor Adam Vaughan—he was instrumental in getting the license changed so that live music had to end here by 11 p.m., yes?
BW: That was the compromise [with the neighbours], that stuff had to end here by eleven. That’s part of why this became a less coveted space to rent. We have to be creative with it. Someone wrote to me recently, suggesting, “Well, why don’t they have a coffee shop in the front?” He had other interesting suggestions about how to run the club as a business, and I said, “Well, dude, those are cool ideas… so why don’t you get involved?” What has to happen is we need to foster more interest in participation here.
TORONTOIST: More people need to be invested in the club itself.
BW: That’s what we’re trying to mobilize with this campaign.
We also need, frankly, gifts; we need donors, which has happened in the past, over the club’s long history. John Sladek [a fellow board member, and past president] is saying, “We need to find people who will give the Tranzac $250, $500 donations, like twenty or thirty larger scale donors.” For a lot of the musicians who play here, that’s a tall order.
It’s really imperative to get people who aren’t members to realize that how the Tranzac is sustained is by people taking out a membership, which you can do easily online now, and now is the time. For former members, now’s the time to renew, and if they can extend $100, $200, $500 as a donation, that will go a long way.
The immediate problems will be solved if we can meet the forty grand target. It’s not like we’re going to raise that, and then, in three months time, ask for another forty grand, or else the club will die. Forty grand would give the club time to restructure the mortgage, plug the financial leak, and reorganize some other things.
TORONTOIST: So the question we’re asking everyone: what is it about the Tranzac that makes it unique? You’re here a lot, playing in the Southern Cross Lounge, and seeing a lot of shows here. Why should the Tranzac be saved?
BW: There’s a lot of corporate spaces in Toronto, a lot of places to perform, and see shows. Many of those places are intimidating; it’s all about the cover, and there’s bouncers, and it’s about the fashion and coolness of the scene. Those are aspects of Toronto that many people, here and across Canada, loathe. The Tranzac is an unpretentious place, where sparks fly; it’s charming, and stimulating. There’s a real relief for people walking in here for the first time; it’s like a Legion, but where anybody can hang.
TORONTOIST: In the Southern Cross Lounge, for instance, there’s no stage, no division from the audience; people just get up and walk over and start playing, sometimes.
BW: Yeah; it’s just loose, friendly, and accessible.
Most good things, like the Tranzac, are impossible to sustain without people actively making them work. The Liason of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto is a great example of a group that’s continued making their thing work. They make film equipment and classes available to the community, and they never lose sight of the fact that they need to be vigilant about perpetuating what they are, and helping people discover how they can utilize LIFT. The Tranzac hasn’t developed their outreach skills to that level; if we get through this, perhaps we’ll arrive at a place where that’s established.
TORONTOIST: It’s also that a place like the Tranzac happens organically. It’s very hard to open a new space and create a community like the Tranzac already has. There’s a tangible sense of history, that would be hard to duplicate.
BW: People need places like this. If it goes bankrupt, and has to sell—because the real estate is worth millions, in this location in the Annex—the board will close and sell it, to a condo developer, probably. The club will pay off the debts, and that’ll be that. All the people who savour the Tranzac, and are nurtured by it, they’ll probably find somewhere else, though I don’t know where.
But the sad part will be, lots of people will say, “What the fuck!?! How did this happen?” We’re trying to be birds in the coal mine, and let people know that it could happen.
Next up in the Tranzac Transcripts: Sunparlour Players’ Andrew Penner.