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MFA student puts vanity and secrecy on display in theatre production of Princess Ivona

Sabrina Nemis | Fulcrum Staff

Photos by Justin Labelle

ARE WE HIDING behind happy status updates, smiling profile pictures, and witty tweets? What darkness lies behind the images we present to the world, and what secrets are our friends hiding from us?

A bored prince decides to marry Princess Ivona, a strange girl no one likes and no one can understand. Her presence at court disrupts the stability of the kingdom and reveals more about the courtiers than herself.

“It’s basically the struggle of what happens when an individual who is different appears in a society and how society destroys the individual,” says director Katya Shestakova, a candidate for a master of fine arts in directing for theatre.

Although the U of O’s version of the play is still set in Eastern Europe, Shestakova says she didn’t want to make a period piece that was set in the pre-war period of 1930s Poland, like the original.

“It doesn’t speak that well to audiences, especially to students and Canadian audiences in general,” she says. “I was looking at this play and trying to see how I can make it modern.”

She looked to the runway for a section of modern society idolized like royalty and just as preoccupied with appearances.

“Because we are dealing in this play with high class because it is in a castle, I decided to make it into a fashion show,” says Shestakova. “So the whole play is about people in the world of fashion.”

However, Princess Ivona is about more than trendy clothes—it’s about our society’s preoccupation with image and branding. What lies between what we want people to see and what is actually there?

“There’s this fakeness that is going on all the time, and it surrounds you all the time. Only your closest friends might know a little bit better,” Shestakova explains. “Behind these masks, behind these profiles, who are these people, and what are they hiding?”

To help the audience get into the spirit of the fashion world and consider their own role in creating public personas, Shestakova asks them to dress to impress.

“The more formal you go, the better—as you would go to a fashion event,” she says. “So it’s a great chance to wear your prom dresses.”

Dressed for a fashion show, watching high society fall apart, the audience will be confronted with the motivations behind their own public profiles.
Shestakova says Princess Ivona ultimately asks of its audience, “Do we have the courage to look into our souls?”

Tickets are $20, or $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at the door or reserved by calling 613-562-5761 or emailing


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