Existere is a social action theatre group that aims to raise awareness around important issues relevant to first-year students coming to Queen's, including living in residence, academics, health, violence, sex, alcohol, and diversity. The production, which has been running for 18 years, is a favourite part of Orientation for many students. All of the scenes presented in the show are written by the cast members based on their own experiences at university.
Our cast is assembled in January, and is comprised entirely of first-year students (second-years by the time the show goes live in September). They are by no means all actors or writers or performers – in fact, for many cast members it’s their first time in this kind of show/performance. Cast members rehearse during the winter term by discussing relevant issues and messages, and working together and individually to brainstorm, create, and write concepts or scenes for the September performance. The cast returns to Kingston near the end of August where they work for about a week putting together the final show for Orientation Week.
The History of Existere
Existere first began as a Ministry of Education initiative to address the issue of violence against women. Producer Julia Blackstock, along with a number of dons, developed a play entitled “Shaking the Apple Tree” to address this topic. The play was performed for existing dons and consisted of multiple scenes, much like the format that is followed today.
“Shaking the Apple Tree” was extremely successful and Queen’s decided to expand the show to address other relevant issues for new students. Existere I was presented in September 1994 as part of Residence Orientation week, and was an immediate hit. Today, it continues to be a favourite part of the Orientation Week experience for many students.
Existere is a Latin word meaning to stand out; to come forth; to emerge. The experience of this show has been exactly that – an emergence. And it continues to grow. In its twenty-first year, the program and show have a very strong presence on campus. Existere invites first year students to be open to new things and new ideas, to question what is presented and performed in the show, and to strive for change and growth in their University community by not just accepting stereotypes or norms but rather through exploration, critical engagement, and initiating social change.