The Armory

The World of the Play: "Tiny Beautiful Things"

Posted 21 February 2019

Cheryl Strayed discusses the column "Dear Sugar"

Interview with the original Cast/Adapter Nia Vardalos

The Oscar-nominated screenwriter and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” Nia Vardalos returned to TODAY to chat with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb about reprising her role in the Broadway play “Tiny Beautiful Things". 

Watch the full interview

Why Make a Broadway adaptation of "Tiny Beautiful Things"?

"Cheryl Strayed — author of the bestselling memoir Wild — was still an unknown writer when she started an anonymous advice column called "Dear Sugar." She remembers reading and writing things "that we don't normally say to people in the public space," she recalls — and those intimate exchanges made her explore her own life more deeply. "I always think of the 'Dear Sugar' column as, like, therapy in the town square."

Now that town square is the Public Theater in New York. Actress and writer Nia Vardalos, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Thomas Kail, the director of Hamilton, have collaborated to create an unlikely off-Broadway play based on Strayed's bestselling book of advice columns, Tiny Beautiful Things..."You know who I am. I reveal myself to you in every column," Strayed's character "Sugar" says.

And, in revealing herself, Sugar reveals more about our common humanity, without ever telling people what to do or how to think, says Vardalos. Sugar's not Dear Abby or Ann Landers: "Cheryl uses storytelling to reveal something about herself," Vardalos explains, to "make the person feel like: It's OK, it's OK. You show me yours, and I will show you mine."

The play came about because a friend gave director Thomas Kail the book Tiny Beautiful Things, which he then gave it to Vardalos. She read it cover to cover on a flight from New York to LA, and through her tears, called Kail on the tarmac to say she wanted to adapt it. But she knew it couldn't be a traditional theatrical narrative.

"Rather than try to create something that I'd seen before, I thought: I don't care if this is a play, if it's a monologue, if it's a theatrical experience," Vardalos recalls. "I can't worry about the finished product. I'm just going to explore."

Tbt Nia

Nia Vardalos stars in Tiny Beautiful Things, a stage adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's book of "Dear Sugar" advice columns. Joan Marcus/Public Theater

Kail says that exploration has yielded an unconventional and emotional 75-minute theatrical journey.

"I wanted it to be an experience where you walked into the dark and this thing unfolded and there was some sort of ritual that was embraced ..." Kail says. "It was not about plot. It was about feeling, it was about empathy. It was about being heard."

Kail says there's a reason Strayed's words resonate — and why so many people give her book to one another. It's "about something very simple," he says: "I see you. I hear you. You are known."

He hopes audiences feel the same way."  

-All Things Considered, October 2017

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The Journey from Book to Stage

"...I first read Tiny Beautiful Things back in 2012, when I was 23-years-old. I haven't read it cover to cover since then, but I've returned to my favorite columns over and over again. Re-reading it is always a profoundly personal experience, because I am able to revisit all the passages I'd highlighted the first time around — the pieces of advice about body image, building a career, struggling to find lasting romance, or dealing with difficult parents that had resonated with me so strongly when I'd first picked up the book.

But that's why revisiting the book as a staged production was even more enlightening. The stage is very much a shared experience. There is no skimming. There is no ignoring the advice or stories you don't want to hear, unless you literally plug your ears and shut your eyes against it. The many actors on the stage, the ushers who lead us to our seats, the strangers sitting next to us, coughing and shifting, breathing our air.... seeing Tiny Beautiful Things performed brought the community aspect of the book to stark light. Because Strayed and the people whose questions she's answered? They have experienced tragedies that I will never know; they have experienced tragedies that I may, unfortunately, someday know. They have also experienced joys and successes that I will know and will never know." -Kerri Jarema, Bustle November 2017

Read the full article

15 'Dear Sugar' to Get you Through Your Day

Needing that moment of inspiration or compassion to get you through the hardest transitions in our lives? Reacquaint yourself or perhaps meet for the very first time, 15 "Dear Sugar" columns recommended by Bustle to get you through the hardest of situations. 

Preview some favorites below: 

A 64-year-old man is single and wants to find love. More specifically, he wants to ask out a younger woman he met while volunteering, but he's afraid — afraid she might say no, afraid she might say yes, afraid he might never fall in love again. In "The Magic Of Wanting To Be," Sugar writes:

"I can’t say when you’ll get love or how you’ll find it or even promise that you will. I can only say you are worthy of it and that it’s never too much to ask for it and that it’s not crazy to fear you’ll never have it again, even though your fears are probably wrong. Love is our essential nutrient. Without it, life has little meaning. It’s the best thing we have to give and the most valuable thing we receive. It’s worthy of all the hullabaloo."

"Desperate" has done some things they're not proud of in the past, and they don't know how to forgive themselves and move forward. In "The Bad Things You Did,"Sugar writes:

"Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself. Every last one of us has the capacity to do that, you included, Desperate. I hope you will."

Sugar's Farewell

Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond said farewell to their podcast Dear Sugars on September 1, 2018. Listen to the final episode and tune in to four years of conversations here

"After four years of ministering to the lost, lonely and heartsick, the Sugars say farewell on this final episode of the podcast. We take a look back at some of our most powerful advice, hear from former guests, and talk to listeners about how the show has affected their lives.

We’ve had a diverse collection of guests on Dear Sugars: writers, musicians, doctors, even a presidential candidate; but all offered wisdom in an unpretentious way. In today’s episode, the Sugars listen and respond to voice mail messages from some of these guests, and recount cherished memories from their episodes." -The New York Time

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