“We don’t grow children like that here.” The Ringwald’s production of The Laramie Project – plus, quick notes on Crazy Rich Asians, Blaine Fowler’s America, and yours truly being interviewed on Freeman Means Business

Laramie Project review originally published by Encore Michigan here.

[Image Source: The Ringwald’s Facebook page]

The Ringwald Theatre’s 2018-19 season opener The Laramie Project is not a production that needs to be reviewed. It is a production that needs to be viewed. It is a production that essentially illustrates (beyond question) that the most impactful theatre requires very little: words, voice, people, movement. Storytelling in its truest form. As an audience member, I haven’t cried like I did opening night of Laramie Project in years (if ever).

 

At the end of act one, I was a puddle, with two acts to go, and, by the time the performance wrapped, I was red-eyed, gutted, mad-as-hell, and cautiously hopeful. It’s that good. I suppose some projection was involved on my part. I was roughly Matthew Shepard’s age when he was savagely brutalized and murdered. I grew up and attended college in Indiana, which, as Mike Pence’s political ascent will attest, is a state not unlike Wyoming – more Handmaid’s Tale than Moulin Rouge.

That notwithstanding, The Ringwald’s production of Laramie Project is a slow-burn powerhouse.

The play written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project assembles first-person narratives from hundreds of interviews with Laramie townspeople, University of Wyoming faculty members, friends of Matthew’s, and the Tectonic Theater’s actors themselves. The narrative roughly follows this arc: defining Shepard’s humanity and upbringing, detailing the incidents of that tragic evening, and assessing its aftermath, all in the words of narrators both reliable and not. It is up to the audience to sort the wheat from the chaff and to make sense of a society where such irrational cruelty can occur. The approach is as journalistic as it is theatrical, and the topic is (sadly) as timely today as it was when the piece was written in 2000.

Director Brandy Joe Plambeck has assembled an empathetic, deep-feeling, yet commanding cast to perform dozens of roles: Joe Bailey, Greg Eldridge, Kelly Komlen, Sydney Lepora, Joel Mitchell, Taylor Morrow, Gretchen Schock, and Mike Suchyta. Rarely does this stellar group miss a beat, and Plambeck wisely eschews distractingly overt theatricality for a stripped down readers’ theatre approach. The emphasis is quite literally on the words on the page, and, as the details mount, both performers and audience are swept into a hurricane of emotion, of indignation, and of heartbreak.

As for those tears of mine? Well, Lepora and Bailey are the chief culprits, tasked to deliver some of the more devastating speeches and historical detail. They resist the temptation to indulge their characters’ raw emotions in a broad, selfish, “actorly” way. Rather, they quite realistically and subtly show their characters desperately trying (and failing) to stifle and contain their confusion, their anguish, their rage. And that damming of emotion, only to see the floodgates fail, is what cuts an audience to the quick.

Suchyta is quite effective as a series of “Wyoming” alpha men, from a star theatre student to a local bar owner to Shepard’s tormentors Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Mitchell is a sparkplug, breathing bold strokes life into the play’s few comic moments as a surprisingly insightful cab driver, and Morrow does a fine job balancing characters both reprehensible (local “mean girls” who basically imply Shepard deserved his fate) and painfully noble (one of the very few out-and-proud lesbian faculty members at the University of Wyoming).

That said, I hate to single out any performances, because this is an ensemble show in the truest sense of the word, and everyone is excellent. Plambeck paces the show in a measured but never ponderous way. The costuming is minimal, stage directions and character names are read by Plambeck, and scene changes/location names are projected on the back wall of the space. This approach results in a production that places the emphasis squarely where it belongs – on the voices of the people who experienced this tragedy and on a nation that both evolved and devolved as a result. Don’t miss this production.

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

“I’m so Chinese I’m an economics professor with lactose intolerance.” – Crazy Rich Asians

 

The other week we saw the film Crazy Rich Asians. Somehow life got in the way of me writing anything at length about the film, which is a shame because it is quite exceptional. Let me say this: while it was marketed as a wall-to-wall laugh riot a la Bridesmaids, it shares more with that film’s DNA than just riotous shenanigans.

Don’t get me wrong, Crazy Rich Asians has its fair share of zaniness, chiefly supplied by sparkling comedienne Awkwafina, but like Bridesmaids, that tomfoolery belies a gentler, sweeter, yet exceptionally subversive core. It’s been 20-some years since Hollywood produced a film starring an all-Asian cast (the far inferior Joy Luck Club), and the box office success of Crazy Rich Asians will hopefully inspire a bit of sea change where Asian representation in Tinseltown is concerned. Money matters (sadly).

Crazy Rich Asians is part fair tale fantasy, part light comedy, part soap opera, all heart. Luminous Constance Wu arrives a fully formed movie star as Rachel Wu, a whip-smart economics professor in New York whose life is turned upside down when she learns her longtime boyfriend Nick Young (a dashing Henry Golding) is in actuality Singapore real estate royalty. As Rachel runs the gauntlet of Henry’s wackadoo family members – including a sympathetically subtle turn by Michelle Yeoh as Henry’s fearful and controlling mother Eleanor – Wu reveals varied layers of heartache and resilience. It’s a thoughtful performance, understated and thereby likely to be unfairly overlooked come awards season, but nonetheless an exceptional depiction of female frustration and agency in this maddening modern era.

Catch this film while still in theaters or on home video shortly.

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[Yes, a window into my musical taste.]

Blaine Fowler’s AmericaMy friend Blaine Fowler is a brilliant, witty, and delightful radio DJ here in metro Detroit on WDVD 96.3 FM. His morning show is a top-rated listen in this market. He and his wife Colleen are also among the kindest people you’ll have the chance to meet with two lovely and successful children. But one of his greatest loves is music. I wrote a bit about his last iTunes album 49783 here.

 

His latest release America was just posted on iTunes and Amazon for download.The whole album is divine. More cohesive sonically and rawer lyrically than the prior one, with an almost “song cycle” effect and an evocative moodiness. I liked it very much. Highlights include “Love Is” (a trippy throwback to Prince at his Minneapolis peak), “Reach,” “Oval Beach,” and “Best Friend.” This is an impressive evolution, which is saying something as I very much enjoyed Blaine’s previous effort. Keep it up. And keep experimenting. My two cents.

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Freeman Means Business

This week, my friend and fellow legal marketer Susan Freeman interviewed me for her podcast. She writes, “Check out the latest great conversation about the life of a legal marketer from our ‘Peer Pod’ podcast featuring Roy Sexton, a real dynamo — and a reel dynamo too!” Click here or here.

“Be patient. Listen to those with experience in areas that are new or foreign to you. Don’t be afraid to be your authentic self. People WILL respond.” Thank you, Susan!

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Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

“I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends” – Survival Tips From the Front Lines of Legal Marketing (as published by JD Supra) #lmamkt

Originally published by JD Supra – https://lnkd.in/ejKKP85

I never really understood what a mid-life crisis was. It seemed like a made-up thing to rationalize men acting super-self-indulgent, throwing over any prior obligations, and buying a stupid yellow sports car. The kind of thing Neil Simon would write about, starring George Segal or Donald Sutherland, rocking plaid bell bottoms and a silky shirt unbuttoned to their navels. (If you aren’t a child of the 1970s, I’m seriously dating myself.)

I still think it is a false construct, existing not so much in reality as in the minds of perpetually adolescent, commitment phobic men and Hollywood screenwriters.

HOWEVER, as I near the mid-century mark, I do understand that crushing, clammyfeeling of why am I here, what have I accomplished, have I made a difference? Every time I read my Wabash College alumni magazine, featuring tales of people my age (and younger) who have found cures for cancer while traversing the Congo as CEOs of major, multinational conglomerates with their beautiful, sartorially-gifted, well-read, blended families in tow, I think, “Why am I sitting here in my sweatpants eating a bowl of Froot Loops and reading comic books?”

Compound all of that with the immediacy of starting a (relatively) new job, leading marketing at an amazing firm in Detroit – a firm that never has had someone in a lead marketing role, a firm that, while open to learning and to change is also a firm (as they all are to some degree) residually agnostic about the long term impacts of marketing and of the voodoo that I do so well.

Things move slowly in that kind of environment. There are a lot of conversations. Every expenditure is scrutinized. You have to take as many victory laps as your colleagues can stand without falling past the tipping point of shameless showboating. You have to demonstrate results when there aren’t really any results yet to demonstrate. A seasoned marketer (or at least I think I am … some days) knows what their new organization needs, but, when said organization is unfamiliar with those needs and how costly they can be and that there is a good 12-to-18-month lead time to get the business development machinery settled and operational, said marketer finds him/herself in the tricky position of being internal salesperson, educator, executor, and judge. It’s exhilarating and exhausting to wear all of those hats simultaneously.

“We need to spend XXX on YYY. Trust me. We need it. What will be the return? Well. Why can’t I just do this myself with my laptop and some popsicle sticks? Um. Do we need additional outside support? Er. Isn’t that why I was hired? Yes …”

It’s very easy to lose your rudder. If you are a solo marketer (with apologies, I rather hate the term “unicorn,” but I get why people use it), you are a peculiar and intriguing presence. Attorneys need you, especially if you get them some ink or some love; attorneys want to understand what is it you do?; attorneys don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs; and, ultimately, you are an island with no one necessarily in your immediate reach who understands the context through which you think and approach the work. Consequently, you may feel perpetually defensive and isolated and alone.

Don’t succumb to the dark side of the Force: self-doubt and loathing.

That’s why, no matter the stage of your career or the self-confidence you possess, it is crucial to remember that, yes, in fact you do know what you are doing and that there are good reasons for the recommendations you are making. Furthermore, be patient. Education takes time, and trust the process. I live in fear (in any job I’ve had) that a few months or a year will go, and I will be summoned with a cold question of “what has actually been accomplished?” followed by “while we really like you, we are going to try something else.”

(As we know, statistically, the first marketer in any organization doesn’t always last, often immediately replaced by someone who tells the firm all the same things and suggests all the same steps, but now the firm is even further behind in their timeline as a result of the transition.)

How do you do stay vibrant? How do you stay true to yourself and not show up one day driving a Lamborghini and sporting an ascot? To quote The Beatles (of whom I’m one of the few who has never been that enamored), “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

• Build your internal constituency. Find your early adopters and turn them into marketing fanatics. Leverage any and all successes they have by celebrating them (not yourself). Encourage your attorneys to feel like these are their ideas, not yours.

• Hold your professional and personal consiglieres as tight as you can. But don’t drain their emotional well or try their patience by only talking about your issues. Find out what they are facing; support their wins; share their work; and learn from what they’ve experienced and accomplished.

• I don’t believe that you should never show weakness. I know that may be anathema in our industry, but your vulnerability connects you with others who are most assuredly feeling the same way. Be honest with yourself and others about what you do and don’t do well.

• Activate yourself in your professional association of choice. Mine is the Legal Marketing Association. Volunteering, mentoring, speaking, writing, attending – all keep my energy up, inform me, keep me smart(-ish), and make me feel like I have significance.

• Maintain a manageable clutch of go-to industry resources to keep you abreast of trends and concerns and issues. My list includes (but not limited to … forgive me if I left you out): Nancy Myrland; The Legal Watercooler/Heather Morse; Legal Marketers Extraordinaire; JD Supra; Jay Harrington; Darryl Cross; Samantha McKenna; Furia RubelCommunications/Gina Rubel; John Reed; Lindsay Griffiths; Jaffe PR; Mark T. Greene; Catherine MacDonagh and Tim Corcoran; Patrick Fuller; and Susan Freeman; among others.

• Find those external markers that help you remain validated. Is there a community or professional board of which you can be a part? Is there a volunteer activity where your intelligence and agency and autonomy are valued and appreciated?

• Remember what is actually important in your life. Our jobs define us and occupy far too much of our time. Our family and our friends are why we are here on this planet. Take care of the people who bring meaning to your life. Take time for the hobbies and shared activities that keep you sane. Otherwise, you are no good to yourself, your network, or your job.

That’s it. That’s what I’m thinking and feeling right now. I’m grateful to have a fabulous life that engages me, pushes me, stretches me too thin, but I need to be realistic about what can and can’t be accomplished in any given moment. I need to learn patience and to be more satisfied with the here and now. I am a work-in-progress. I suspect you are, too.

All the biographical bits you might care to know about me … third-person-style …

[Roy Sexton has led strategic planning and marketing efforts for nearly twenty years in a number of industries, including health care, legal services, and fund raising. He currently serves as Director of Marketing for Kerr Russell in Detroit. He serves as a regional board member for the Legal Marketing Association, sat on the state board of the Michigan Mortgage Lenders Association, and currently sits on the boards of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Royal Starr Film Festival (Royal Oak, Michigan),and encoremichigan.com. He is a published author with two books of film and arts critique, compiled from his blog of the same name Reel Roy Reviews. He holds an M.A. in theatre history and criticism from the Ohio State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.]

Thank you to the Detroit Legal News for reprinting the piece.


Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital).

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language