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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

'FixaPlate' And Gather 'Round To Learn About Charlotte's History Through Food

plate art piece with outline of Mecklenburg County
Courtesy FixaPlate
The outline of Mecklenburg County atop a plate made of gathered recipes shows how food and place are intertwined

Kat Martin calls herself one of Charlotte’s “unicorns,” someone who was born and raised and grew up in the city. People like her are rare in this city of transplants, she knows. But the theatrical artist left town for grad school, and when she returned eight years later, she found herself getting lost in neighborhoods she once knew like the back of her hand.

So much had changed, and she wasn’t sure she liked or understood it. What had happened to the restaurants and grocery stores she knew and loved? Why does the “wedge” of prosperous neighborhoods and the “crescent” of poorer ones in Charlotte still exist? What are “food deserts” and why are they found in places she frequented?

“I saw all this, quote-unquote progress,” she said, “but then the porches that I was sitting on and the people that I knew didn't reflect the gleaming progress that I saw in other parts of Charlotte.”

What tells the history of Charlotte via food better than heart-shaped biscuits?
Courtesy FixaPlate
What tells the history of Charlotte via food better than heart-shaped biscuits?

Martin felt drawn to telling Charlotte’s story — its real story — and not in a surface-level way. What she and Mixed Metaphors Productions came up with is FixaPlate, an immersive theatrical experience that aims to tell the history of Charlotte through food.

“I feel like the answers to those questions have been around the table and on these porches rather than in boardrooms and in funding meetings,” she said.

At FixaPlate, which takes place Sept. 17-19 and Oct. 23 and 24, attendees will sit down at Grandma Millie’s — atop blankets in an open field so everyone is distanced during these COVID-19 times — and learn about her memories through an old recipe box that is found. Handwritten cards and passed-down recipes reveal the history of the home and family while challenging and correcting the public narrative of Charlotte’s “progress.”

By using theater and installation art and food, we want to take something that we all know and ignore, and put it in our bodies through art and through celebration and through genuine talking to each other,” Martin said.

In practice that means a theatrical scene, followed by a visit to an art installation. Another scene, and another art viewing. That continues until the conclusion — which is a meal provided by the restaurant Grinning Mule.

Recipes of the food that will be served come from virtual potluck events she’s held since the start of this year, and include everything from chicken and dumplings to collard greens and everything in between.

art installation of wooden spoons
Courtesy FixaPlate
An art installation made of wooden spoons and other utensils hangs at the site of a previous FixaPlate popup.

“When we're working in the ensemble, we always say it's ‘juicy contradictions.’ So, we're looking for complexity within that narrative,” she said. “So, yeah, there's a biscuit. And then there's also a pigeon, peas and rice dish that came from Charlotteans and it's really representative of their history."

But it’s not just food. FixaPlate aims to be a full-sensory experience. And that means the theater performance and art installations created through the help of 15 local artists. In one immersive art experience, artist Claudio Ortiz creates a soundscape using samples of sound he’s gathered of people talking about recipes, about restaurants, of different neighborhoods, and even of Price’s Chicken Coop on the final day it was open.

People come into a room and play each of those samples in whatever order they devise, creating a unique mix.

“It's adding that layer of what food is, like the sounds of the kitchen,” Martin said. “So, we think that the installation pieces are going to make sure that we're tapping into every single sense that surrounds food.”

In the end, Martin hopes, people will leave with a new sense of what created the Charlotte that exists today – with all its sparkling uptown buildings, gentrified neighborhoods, food deserts and prosperous shops. That is to say, the real Charlotte.

“We see how it shows up on our plate there,” Martin said. “And the project, itself, reframes that instead of kind of ignoring the systemic factors – ‘food desert’ makes it sound like it just naturally occurred like a desert -- instead, we want to show the way that Charlotte's history at large impacts the plate and the kitchen table, and how the kitchen table can impact Charlotte's history at large.”

All that in a single immersive theatrical experience.

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Jodie Valade has been a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE since 2019. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Athletic to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks — where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal — and at The Kansas City Star. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Education from John Carroll University. She is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan.