"The Big Ambition" looks at an old fairy tale anew

Written by Karen L. Bystrom
May 8, 2017

Playwright Ki Gottberg and director Rosa Joshi, with the poster for The Big Ambition“How do you feel about your body? Would you do anything to change that ‘one thing’? The Little Mermaid did. Remember her?”

These are some of the questions at the heart of Ki Gottberg’s new play with music, The Big Ambition. Inspired by and written for Seattle U students, The Big Ambition looks at an old fairy tale anew, and explores the need to fit in and/or defy cultural ideas of selfhood and success. Set in an urban environment, with a variety of music styles from rap to spiritual to barbershop quartet, The Big Ambition swims around in the sea of identity, exploring how and why we do what we do to get what we think we want.

Technical rehearsal of The Big Ambition previews on May 10 and runs May 11 through 21 at the Lee Center for the Arts at Seattle University. Tickets are available online or in person one hour before curtain.

“So many people today only think of the Disney animated movie in relation to The Little Mermaid and not the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale,” says Gottberg, chair of the Performing Arts and Arts Leadership department. “Both are stories about trading parts of ourselves for something we desperately want, but the fairy tale is much darker.”

Illustration: The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson (public domain image)At last she reached her fifteenth year. “Well, now, you are grown up,” said the old dowager, her grandmother; “so you must let me adorn you like your other sisters;” and she placed a wreath of white lilies in her hair, and every flower leaf was half a pearl. Then the old lady ordered eight great oysters to attach themselves to the tail of the princess to show her high rank.

“But they hurt me so,” said the little mermaid.

“Pride must suffer pain,” replied the old lady.

--Hans Christian Anderson

Director Rosa Joshi, who recently directed Seattle Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed production of Bring Down the House, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI with an all-female cast, says, “I love that Ki's script is so poetic and boldly theatrical. In this particular play, I was really taken with the story of a young girl searching for how to be her authentic self as she pushes up against a culture filled with noise.”

Technical rehearsal of Gottberg adds, “For me, and Rosa, having daughters who went (are going through) middle and high school, these issues are very real to us. The old Hans Christian Anderson tale about a mermaid girl who wants the Prince so much she gives up her beautiful voice is particularly poignant. Regardless of how Disney spun it, the original tale has her about to turn into sea foam (nothing) at the end. Looking at this idea anew is what the play does, in an urban setting with gritty and contemporary genre music in “commercial length” song.”

Gottberg and Joshi have assembled an extraordinary artistic team to develop this new play with the students.

Master actor, director and teacher Jane E. Nichols is featured as Granny. Her comedic sense of timing infused with her skills as a clown, coupled with her past work as the director of Our Lady of 121st Street with many of these students brings a demonstration of the particular eloquence and vulnerability needed in this work.

Technical rehearsal of Alice Gosti, choreographer for The Big Ambition, is renowned for finding inspiration in current and historic social realities. As she describes her work on her website, “My work fosters a conscious world as it uses performance and the body to bring to the surface questions and ideas that are relevant to the contemporary human condition—questions that allow viewers to empathize, transforming their perceptions by experiencing the world through a prospective that may not be at the forefront of their daily experience.” Her work on The Big Ambition has included conversations with the cast about their personal experience with body image and looking at how that influences movement.

Composing the music for The Big Ambition, representing a wide variety of styles, is Casey James, Grammy-nominated songwriter and composer and producer who has earned a number of gold and platinum records, with more than 100 songs recorded by major artists including Elton John, the Freemasons, Jennifer Lopez, Teddy Pendergrass, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lou Rawls, the Spinners, and, the Temptations.

The team is rounded out with Kate Wisniewski, Voice/Text Coach; Candace Frank, Costume Designer; Amiya Brown, Lighting Designer; and Dominic CodyKramers, Sound Designer.

The Big Ambition by Ki Gottberg | Directed by Rosa Joshi

Preview: May 10, 2017 | Opening: May 11, 2017 | Closes: May 21, 2017

Wednesday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. | Sundays, 2 p.m.

Advance purchase online or buy tickets at the door beginning one hour before curtain.

$6 students; $10 SU faculty/staff/alumni; $12 general admission


Photos: Technical rehearsals of The Big Ambition.