If you follow theater at Swarthmore, you are bound to come across Alex Kingsley ’20 in one of her many forms as an actor, writor, director, and even as a stand-up comedian. Personally, I’ve always looked up to her for her tremendous quantity and quality of work in the various playwriting festivals, and so I was thrilled for the chance to hear her reflect on her time as an artist at Swarthmore and before.
Kingsley gave a quick thought about her time at Swarthmore: “I do a lot of art, but if you asked me to pick one word to describe myself, I’d say I’m a writer.”
She continued on about the origins of her love of writing. “I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my dad is a writer and my mom is an English teacher, but I think it is also because I have ordinal linguistic synesthesia. To me, abstract concepts (numbers, letters, music notes, months) have always had personalities, so every word and every piece of sheet music is a story.”
Ever since a young age, Kingsley has engaged with her writing through short stories and theater opportunities. She recalls being inspired by “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” by Douglas Adams and books like “No Exit” by Taylor Adams which her mother was teaching as she was growing up.
“To this day, Douglas Adams is a huge inspiration for me. His wit, unique voice, and creativity are unparalleled.” She then went on to sign up for school productions. “I didn’t realize I wanted to be a performer until middle school drama class. I signed up, because I thought I would get to write the school play. Turned out I had to act in it, and oddly enough, I loved it.”
She recalls it being challenging to find an audience for her shows in her football-focused high school.
“My high school community wasn’t very receptive when it came to the arts. Our auditorium was actually built incorrectly, so the sound travelled the wrong way, but no one ever bothered to fix it. One time the school stored a bunch of old toilets on the stage while we were rehearsing for a play, which, to all the students, very much felt like admin was literally saying they couldn’t give less of a shit about us.”
But Kingsley advanced and found communities through stand up comedy and through the support of her parents. Coming to Swarthmore, she felt that a world had opened up for her where her writing would have a larger community to reach.
“The fact that I can just be like, ‘hey, I wanna do a monthly open mic,’ or ‘I wanna make a web series,’ and have the resources to just DO IT is crazy. Part of that, of course, is that the people here are so willing to hop onto projects and help you. This is a community that encourages and fosters creativity.”
Kinglesy has written a lot since her coming to Swarthmore. In her four years, she had racked up quite an impressive set of plays.
“I’m … proud of all my Playwrights Festival plays: “The Mortality Play,” “Closeted,” and “Sincerest Condolences.” “The Bearer of Bad News,” my first one-act, just went up with the One Act Festival. I also do a lot of comedy on campus, including sketch with Boy Meets Tractor and stand-up with Swarthmore Stand Up Comedy Club.”
But she holds a special place for in her heart the full length show that she put on stage.
“The piece of art I’m most proud of at Swarthmore was our production of “The Unicorn Brigade,” my first ever full length play, which I also directed. The best part was that it was a workshop, so I got to actively develop the text with the cast. It taught me what conversations to have in order to get the best feedback, and how to incorporate that feedback into my work. I had a cast full of incredible performers who I formed lasting friendships with.”
After all this time, Kingsley still finds herself coming back to storytelling.
“I love stories. I love making them up, I love having them in my head, but I also love sharing them. I love it when they make people laugh, and even (though I’ve only managed to do this a few times) I love it when they make people cry. Storytelling is something that is integral to who I am, so when I tell someone a story, it is like I am sharing a very intimate part of myself.”
All this while continuing to master her writing and her stand-up routine. Kingsley stands at the forefront of our school’s theater scene. Before we finished our interview, she gave me one last piece of wisdom.
“Ideas are a useless currency. The world is filled with good ideas, and it will never run out. The world is LACKING people with the wherewithal to put those ideas on paper. If you want to be a writer, that’s what you need. It’s not about talent. It’s just about discipline. The most important thing is that you get that first draft finished. The rest will come.”
Photograph by Nara Enkhtaivan