The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many closed doors. But the doors at The Mediator Stage have not only stayed open, they and the rest of the venue have been renewed, repainted, reinvigorated, and complemented with a spiffy new deck, sliders, and flooring. The Mediator’s open mic host and “music minister” Don Tassone has transformed the dusty space in the Reservoir neighborhood of Providence and plans to keep going.
The Mediator Stage at 50 Rounds Avenue is a church and community center, although readers might know it better as an intimate music venue. The open mic has hosted an array of talent, from nascent folk crooners and budding songwriters, to local luminaries like The Low Anthem, Superchief Trio, Ian Fitzgerald and Mark Cutler. Many got their first taste of live performance at the intimate listening room.
The current building housing The Mediator Fellowship has a storied history. It has been dislocated and relocated, and at times has housed Congregational, Baptist, and Universalist denominations. In 1859, the Gorham Silver Company built it for use by incoming immigrant workers.; the Universalist Mediator Fellowship bought the building in 1979. Officially The Church of Christ the Mediator, that congregation has a storied history as well, with theological and cultural dustups in addition to being burned out a couple of times. Today only a general idea of the organized congregation remains at the Mediator, although it continues to be, according to Tassone, a place “where religion never gets in the way of spirituality.”
Tassone is a local tradesman and songwriter. He started attending the open mics at The Mediator, which neighbors his home. Over the next decade it became his living room. When the open mic faltered with some changes, Tassone became one of five rotating hosts; he outlasted them all, and has been the official host since 2011. He’s also the Mediator’s treasurer, though he says he was “always a D student in math.”
Apparently those grades weren’t telling. Tassone has parlayed the Mediator’s modest income (suggested donations for most events, and no retail) and a cobweb-laden trust into an ambitious course of renovations: siding, cedar shingles, paved lot; new windows, stairs, roof, floor, and public address system; upgrades to the bathrooms and upstairs office and storage space; plus new paint throughout. The biggest and most striking change is the yellow maple deck in the backyard, looking in on the stage through glass doors. “I never thought they would go for it,” said Tassone, “to poke a hole in the back wall.” Tassone is still planning upgrades to electric systems and lighting, fresh stain for the woodwork, and likely more. This has almost all been the result of a cashed-out trust, established long ago and shared by the Universalist churches in Rhode Island. As only three of those churches remain, Don convinced them to liquidate.
These renovations started in the months before the pandemic. The church complied with the statewide lockdown in spring of 2020 but was among the first spots to reopen, early that June. Tassone considers it a mission for the Mediator to be “a haven, an oasis in the storm, for artists, musicians, performers and those who just love local music.”
Today, the Mediator continues to move forward. The renovations continue and the open mic continues. The bulk of the house’s suggested donations continue to go to featured performers. Yoga classes, mandolin instruction, concerts and worship services continue. And Don Tassone continues. “Through good times and bad, war and peace, prosperity and turmoil,” he insists, he is building a venue and community that he hopes will be a creative and spiritual resource long after he’s gone.
The Mediator Stage, 50 Rounds Ave, PVD. Photos provided by G. W. Mercure.