Community is a multifaceted thing, so it only makes sense that one represents community with a multifaceted approach. That’s the idea behind FixaPlate, a festival-like theatrical experience being mounted in west Charlotte’s Reid Park neighborhood this weekend.
FixaPlate is an immersive theatrical experience tracing the history of a gentrifying Southern city through the lens of a family kitchen. It will offer local residents the chance to participate in pressing conversations over a shared meal while engaging with interactive art.
Audience members are invited to travel around the exhibit, engage with art and performers, then gather together over a shared experience and, of course, a plate of delicious food. Part festival, part activist statement, part art show, and part dining event, FixaPlate intends to ask questions and inspire new ideas about what Charlotte is and who it is for.
Katheren “Kat” Martin, a Charlotte-born artist, theatre professor at Johnson C. Smith and Winthrop universities, graduate of Queens University of Charlotte, and teacher at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, created this unique experience.
A passionate collaborator, Martin founded Mixed Metaphors Productions (MMP), a troupe that represents a wide swath of mediums, perspectives, and Charlotte experiences. MMP members are joined by their excitement about producing celebratory, immersive art deeply rooted in place — Charlotte in particular.
The collective’s vision is to allow each artist to express their perspective on food and culture through their medium, be it music, paint, or cooking.
There are nine distinct installations that make up FixaPlate, Kat explains, with an overarching aesthetic running through the show. One installation is a room curated by musician and MMP member Claudio Ortiz to act as an interactive soundscape.
Another space from MMP cohort and visual artist Makayla Binter uses the kitchen table as an artistic platform, representing the space where issues in the community at large often come up. Around this table, attendees will have a chance to add their own voices to Binter’s statement by answering questions about food and culture.
Other installations include theatrical performances, like one from the Mixed Metaphors Ensemble that tells the story of a Charlotte family packing up their aunt’s home. After the neighborhood was renamed, Auntie Millie can no longer afford to live there.
As they pack up, they find her old recipe box, pulling out handwritten cards and passed-down recipes revealing the history of their home and family. The story of Auntie Millie, like the rest of the art, was created from scratch by Charlotte artists.
And if all this talk of family recipes gets attendees hungry, there’s an answer for that, too. Chef James Jeffries of The Grinning Mule, a nonprofit restaurant in east Charlotte, will provide the food. Attendees are asked to bring their own blankets and/or chairs to settle onto the lawn at Three Sisters Market, where the event will be held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, as well as a beverage of their choice to add to the community table.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, that’s because there is. FixaPlate aims to be a sort of buffet-style collaboration where one can pick and choose what moves them. MMP’s hope is that by offering so much, not only will it expand and complicate the narrative about what Charlotte is and who it belongs to, but expand the chances that something will stick to your ribs.
The complication is kind of the point for Martin, a lifelong Charlottean who has been witness to a rapidly growing and changing city. In conversations with Rickey Hall of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition and Nadine Ford of the Druid Hills and Little Sugar Creek Community Gardens, Martin asked, “What does this progress mean, and who is it for?”
“[There was] a disconnect between what I saw that was being presented as Charlotte and its progress and the experiences I was having within my community,” Martin tells Queen City Nerve. “FixaPlate is a purposeful attempt to messy up the prevailing too-tidy narrative.”
Martin hopes FixaPlate attendees can help “correct that” tidy narrative — for themselves at least — “and create these new kinds of histories and stories, because they all exist, they just stay in their own pockets,” she says.
In Martin’s telling, community is not so much a thing you can hold, but values you carry with you wherever you go. It’s a feeling, a vibe, and Martin wants FixaPlate attendees to catch it. As an activist engaged with The People’s Platform and the Charlotte Coalition of Anti-Racist Artists, Martin brings an organizer’s mindset to her artwork as well. Her belief is that a city’s identity and transformations, gentrification and displacement, racial segregation and racism “show up on our plate.”
Food seemed an obvious focal point for these messages, as the foods we have access to, the way we prepare them, and how we share a meal are all shaped by place. Martin points to the recent loss of Price’s Chicken Coop in South End as an example of the ways “progress” in Charlotte has been intertwined with the erosion of gathering places that nourish Black communities.
When I asked Martin what the word gentrification means to her, she pointed to the connection between housing and food, then said it “moving into a place and expecting the place to change around you.
“The very structure of this show resists the power of outsiders to change what they are walking into,” she continues.
Attendees are encouraged to engage with the environment, but the fundamentals remain unchanged. One cannot alter the stories being shared or the history those stories are tied to. In this temporary community there are welcome iterations by those who pass through, done in a spirit of generosity and openness, adding to but never taking away.
The real Charlotte is not always so kind, which is why the ambition to create something purposefully about only this place is so vital. Despite its laser focus on Charlotte, the dynamics this group of artists explore are not local to the Queen City; you will see them raised in every city across the United States. The way they manifest here, however, is personal and unique. We have to live with them here, and find the solutions here as well.
It is most often the job of artists to ask good and provoking questions, not necessarily to offer answers, Martin says. That is our task as the viewer, and in this case participant, festival goer, and unwitting collaborator. As attendees leave this particular dinner, they may not have any clear answers, but hopefully they’ll be wondering, “What is this Charlotte community?” And, maybe you will start to understand it a little bit better, before it changes yet again.