South Fulton Arts connects audiences to arts with theater readings, talkbacks

‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ on tap at two south Fulton County locations this weekend
Readings of “The Mountaintop,” by Katori Hall were performed in November 2023 as part of South Fulton Arts' Courageous Conversations series.

Credit: Courtesy of South Fulton Arts

Credit: Courtesy of South Fulton Arts

Readings of “The Mountaintop,” by Katori Hall were performed in November 2023 as part of South Fulton Arts' Courageous Conversations series.

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

The very reason South Fulton Arts exists is to bring attention to the artistry on display in south Fulton County. To that end, South Fulton Arts has been staging readings of “Tiny Beautiful Things,” on stage again Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, as part of its Courageous Conversations series.

Courageous Conversations was founded in 2022 in an effort to build an audience base for south Fulton arts organizations. The organization stages approximately four readings per year, with “Tiny Beautiful Things” being its seventh since the program’s inception.

“South Fulton County has historically been excluded from several resources, including the arts,” says South Fulton Arts Executive Director Jennifer Bauer-Lyons. “That’s not to say that there aren’t great art nonprofit groups in south Fulton County, but they are geographically much more spread out than what we see in north Fulton County or in the city of Atlanta proper.”

The Courageous Conversations series remedies this by using open-forum discussions to encourage south Fulton audiences to connect with the arts. Professional actors and directors are brought in for a bare-bones reading featuring no costumes, sets or props and minimal sound effects. Each reading is followed by a guided talkback session focused on the themes of the play.

“It’s not your typical talkback. If the actors want to participate, they come offstage and they sit in the audience just like any other audience member. It really is focused on the themes of the play and not so much on character development or acting technique,” says Bauer-Lyons.

This reading certainly offers opportunities for discussion. Adapted by Nia Vardalos from a book by Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things” follows Sugar, an anonymous advice columnist, as she offers insight and compassion to a variety of readers seeking help with the difficulties of life. The play is based on Strayed’s real-life experience as the writer of the column Dear Sugar. Some of the topics covered include drug addiction, sexual abuse, career indecision, isolation of transgender youth and grief over lost family members. The thematic variety is part of what led Bauer-Lyons to choose the play for the series.

“What I love about ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ is that I think everyone can find a character to see themselves in because there are so many letter writers throughout the play. It allows for that human connection, but it also allows people to understand that you’re not in this on your own.”

Lydia R. Diamond's "Smart People" was given readings in March as part of the Courageous Conversations series.

Credit: Courtesy of South Fulton Arts

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Credit: Courtesy of South Fulton Arts

Other subjects that have been covered in the talkbacks include racialized police violence (“American Son” by Christopher Demos-Brown), issues of sexual intimacy and consent (“Actually” by Anna Ziegler), science and politics (“Smart People” by Lydia R. Diamond) and the effects of incarceration (“Clyde’s” by Lynn Nottage).

The impact of the readings is felt outside of south Fulton County, as well. Theatrical Outfit’s recent production of “Clyde’s,” which received praise from audiences and critics, took place partly because some of the company’s artistic staff attended a reading held last May as part of this series.

The Courageous Conversations readings have experienced an uptick in attendance, with audiences being eager to participate in these discussions.

“We’ve had conversations that have lasted 20 to 25 minutes, and then we’ve had conversations where we had to shut the venue down and cut people off because they were so into being able to talk about the themes of the play and how the characters maneuvered through those themes.”

The series works in tandem with other programs designed to build arts patronage in south Fulton County. Notably, South Fulton Arts publishes a magazine called Arts United, to which any nonprofit arts organization in the area can submit articles or advertisements for their events. The magazine is published twice a year and is available for purchase at readings.

Since this program exists to bolster arts organizations in south Fulton, the Courageous Conversations series makes a point of moving to different locations, with each one of the four readings taking place at a different venue. This practice increases accessibility for south Fulton audiences who may be too far away from one venue. It also allows the organization to showcase different performance spaces in the area.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” will take the stage again on Friday, May 17, at Academy Theatre and Saturday, May 18, at Onward Theatre. South Fulton Arts has two more reading series planned for this year: “The Cake” by Bekah Brunstetter (Sept. 13-21) and “Feeding Beatrice” by Kirsten Greenidge (November 1-9).


“Tiny Beautiful Things” reading and talkback

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, at Academy Theatre (599 U.S. 19, Hapeville); and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at Onward Theatre (711 Catherine St. SW, Suite 200, Atlanta). Note: Onward Theatre is not wheelchair accessible. Doors open at 7 p.m. at both venues. Admission is on a pay-what-you-can basis. 770-463-1110,


Luke Evans is an Atlanta-based writer, critic and dramaturge. He covers theater for ArtsATL and Broadway World Atlanta and has worked with theaters such as the Alliance, Actor’s Express, Out Front Theatre and Woodstock Arts. He’s a graduate of Oglethorpe University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Houston, where he earned his master’s.

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Credit: ArtsATL

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Credit: ArtsATL


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