In the Studio

Writer Without a Desk

The playwright at Franny Lou's Porch. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

I found out about playwright Alisha Adams on my deep reads of the FringeArts guide. After speaking to her over the phone, I chose her as one of fifteen curated artists in my Fringe bike tours, and though I haven’t met her in person, the people I’ve sent her wayCurate This photographer Lauren Karstens and Women Bike PHL’s Katie Monroe—have thanked me, as apparently it’s a joy to get to know her. I still have not seen an Adams production, but through her writing, and the work of artists she curated for Curate This, I’ve come to respect her as a serious and deeply integrated Philadelphia artist, and I’m proud to feature her here.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

I don’t have my own writing studio, though I have vivid dreams of what it might look like: high ceilinged, bare and white, with plants that aren’t too needy and generous windows overlooking trees. I don’t even have a desk.

Natural light. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

What I have is a six-by-eight-foot bedroom with a child’s futon on the floor and walls covered in fading posters. I can sit at a round table in my cluttered-yet-breezy living room, or recline with my laptop on the thrifted La-Z-Boy. It’s a quick walk to the coffee shop where I know most faces and linger to read every business card and flyer neatly stacked by the half and half. And I have all the spaces near and between.

Picture, dried flowers, candle. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

When I’m working on a play, where I write changes based on the where I am in the play’s development. Park benches and sunny cafes without wi-fi are for early drafts with pen and paper, and the La-Z-Boy and side table are perfect for quickly typing up raw scenes. The generous back table of Franny Lou’s Porch is the perfect spot for outlining story arcs and rearranging plot points with color-coded notecards. Then I read and tinker in bed, propped on several pillows, until I can take a freshly printed first draft out to a cafe and scrawl all over it. If I’m lucky enough to reach the workshop or rehearsal stage, I may find myself in a black box theater, borrowed office space, or gallery.

View from back table at Franny Lou's Porch. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

My most recent play, Shelter-in-Place, brought me to Las Parcelas, a community garden and Puerto Rican cultural space in Philadelphia’s Norris Square neighborhood. We performed the play without mics or lights or a set. The only thing separating us from the noise and activity of the neighborhood was a chainlink fence. The actors—in character—danced to hiphop from passing cars, waved to kids playing outside, talked back to sirens, and laughed as one man slowly rolled a giant plastic barrel down the street. I was more comfortable working here than under a proscenium.

Lac Parcelas. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

My writing process has always been connected to place. Fresh out of college, I wrote a book of poems about the strange, sunny depression of living with my parents in Santa Barbara. The first play lab I ever joined met in the basement of my East Los Angeles apartment building, and my writing had a blind, plunging, subconscious quality. Then, my first “real” plays were all inspired by the foggy shores and singing whales of the San Juan Islands. Other Tongues came from childhood road trips to the Navajo Nation and undergrad studies in Sierra Leone led to Go Yeri Ston. And I can’t leave out Holler Farm in upstate New York, the North Fork John Day Wilderness, and my downstairs add-on bathroom.

Lac Parcelas. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

Writers are famously particular about their space, and I’m no different. Only I need variety more than reliability, public spectacle and communal clatter more than seclusion. I do wonder sometimes how my constantly shifting “studio” shapes my work. Would the continuity of a single writing space better enable me to hear and hone my singular voice? Maybe. But then maybe my voice is singularly variable.

The playwright at Franny Lou's Porch. Photo by Lauren Karstens.

Once, in an Artist’s Way workshop hosted in a neighborhood church, I broke down in tears sharing a quilt design I’d intuitively made to represent my “patchwork” life—the many places I’ve lived and visited and all the jobs, relationships, and creative projects attached. They were tears of acceptance. In my ham-handed way, I was making peace with having often divergent interests and impulses; with having a life full of seams.

All photos by Lauren Karstens

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1 Comment on "Writer Without a Desk"

Pat Pharari
2 years 8 months ago

She’s a babe