Earning Trust Among Lawyers as a Legal Marketer with Roy Sexton, Director of Marketing at Clark Hill
In this episode of On Record PR, we go on record with Roy Sexton, the Director of Marketing at Clark Hill. Roy leads their marketing, branding and communications efforts. He has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, business development, and strategic planning, having worked at Deloitte Consulting, Oakwood Healthcare (now Beaumont), Trott Law, St. Joseph Mercy Health System, and Kerr Russell. Roy is heavily involved regionally and nationally in the Legal Marketing Association as a board member, content expert, and presenter, and he is treasurer-elect for the International Board of Directors. He was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Unsung Legal Hero” in 2018.
More about Roy Sexton
Roy earned his bachelor’s degree from Wabash College and holds two master’s degrees, an M.A. in theatre from The Ohio State University and an MBA from the University of Michigan. He is a graduate of Leadership Detroit and Leadership A2Y, was a governor-appointed member of the Michigan Council of Labor and Economic Growth, and was appointed to the Michigan Mortgage Lenders Association Board of Governors in 2012.
Roy has been involved on many nonprofit boards and committees. Some of them are the National MS Society, ASPCA, Wabash College Southeast Michigan Alumni Association, and others. He currently sits on the board of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor, Royal Starr Film Festival, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, and Encore Michigan. He is a published author with two books, Reel Roy Reviews Volumes 1 and 2, both of which are on my bookshelf.
Roy and Gina met at the Legal Marketing Association National Conference in 2014.
Tell me about your path to become the Director of Marketing at Clark Hill.
This is the first time ever I was able to land a job because of somebody I already knew. With my other jobs, I cast the net out and landed without much help, and serendipity served me well. This is a case where the relationship I had with Megan McKeon, with whom we were on a panel back in San Diego, you, me, Heather, and Megan at LMA. You might recall that I took that terribly seriously. I would say, “I’ve been asked to be on a panel with these wonderful women.” We met every week, and I’m sure the three of you were like, “We got this. Why are we meeting so much?” But you were kind and gracious as you have always been to me, Gina. I keep on going backwards, but that panel discussion was birthed at poolside in Orlando, because we were talking about barristers and baristas. We love to play with words, you and me, and commiseration.
One of the great bonds we have through our organization is we have stressful jobs. We work with people who are under great stress, and where we can be successful and can take some of that stress off of them, but that has to go somewhere. When we get together, the reason we’re both competitive with one another and incredibly supportive is because it’s like, I’m not a sports person, but when pro athletes get together or great performers of any kind get together, you’re just like, “Oh, let me tell you what happened,” so we bond over that. You and I bonded pool-side and we put that panel together. Either you or Heather said, “Hey, there’s this woman, Megan McKeon. She’s great. Let’s add her.” I reached out to her. She was and is great, and we stayed very close and good friends over the years as a result of that. When I was at my prior firm, Kerr Russell, which was a small firm in the same building I’m in now just a few floors down.
Megan was at Clark Hill already, as a director of business development. She knew the firm I was at. I loved them. I still do. It’s a very small firm, and I sometimes felt like I was doing missionary work. It was like, I’m not only doing the marketing. I’m trying to explain to you why you even need marketing and why you’re employing me. That’s a lot when you’re the only person doing all the things, and I’m not getting any younger. I was aging before my very eyes. She said, “Clark Hill’s looking for a director of marketing. Wouldn’t it be fun to work together? I started interviewing, and I fell in love with the leadership and the attorneys. They have really wonderful people. They’re humble and kind but exceptionally talented and really love solving problems. I felt like it was a great fit. That’s how I ended up at Clark Hill. Our friend, Heather Morse, said something to me when I was debating because I’d only been at Kerr Russell a year. I said, “Should I leave?” And she said, “This is the platform you need next. You need to work at a firm this size and learn what that’s like.” She was absolutely right. It’s been a fantastic experience the last few years.
Gina Rubel: It’s interesting. Heather Morse was one of the people who, in many respects, has helped mentor me as well. I first met Heather in Denver. This is what LMA is – we get to know each other. I did not know that you started working at Clark Hill as a result of our commiseration and collaboration program that year. That really makes me proud personally, because that’s one of the things about this podcast. It’s really about what we can do for others as we go on record with these stories, and how can we help other people in their professional journey, and oftentimes, personal journey. That’s part of what we do in the LMA organization but also as the people who are helping lead the lawyers through business development efforts, that incorporate everything, from marketing, PR and so forth.
Roy Sexton: There is, I would say one of the great benefits. I do theater. I’ve been out there in a lot of ways. Obviously, I’ve volunteered and been part of a lot of organizations throughout my career. I had parents that were wonderfully supportive and pushed me in good ways to try and be out there and do a lot. It’s not that LMA gave me that aspect of my life, but it certainly galvanized a portion of it. I do tend to be introverted, which people don’t believe.
When I went to those first few conferences, I was very intimidated and didn’t feel like I knew how to fit in. I talked to you, Gail Lamarche, Nancy Myrland, Lindsay Griffiths, Laura Toledo, and Heather Morse, but you particularly. You saw me wandering over to you guys at your meet up with the social media group, and you said, “Come over here.” You invited me over. Joe Clark did something similar for me in Dallas. You invited me over, and you started talking to me as if you’ve known me forever. I felt like I had a sister instantly, and you were very kind to me. Through your inquisitive nature and your journalistic background, we were asking you a lot of interesting questions, and you made me feel welcomed. The next thing I know, I’m laughing with everybody. Gail Paul was sitting there, and I will remember that moment forever. If anyone’s ever mad at me in my role and service to the Legal Marketing Association, they can blame you.
That’s when you brought me in. I can’t turn back. I have a career. I have people, that I get, and get me. I see a path for myself because at that point, I took the jobs. I was good at them. I didn’t know what I wanted. I still wanted to be in theater. I still do. I wanted to perform. This work we do, because it is consulting, it is coaching, it is bringing other people to the point where they feel that sense of voice. For me, I felt like I had a voice with you all. That then helped me with my attorneys, who I think feel similarly self-conscious. They’re very smart, very accomplished people, but you throw them into a huge room of folks that they don’t know and say, “Go develop your business.” It’s a terrible thing to do to that kind of mind. I relate to that, and I think it’s why I’ve been able to be successful in this work. Maybe it’s too earnest and too much, but I do attribute so very much to that moment. You brought me over to the pool and said, “Come sit with us.”
Gina Rubel: That means the world to me. I continued to learn, from you and with you, along the way.
We often talk about the importance of earning a seat at the table. What that means is you’re being able to talk to the leaders and partners in a law firm and get them to engage. What do you do to build trust and to get them to give you a seat at that table, and to hear the ideas and to engage?
There are a couple of skills I learned early on, and I’ll come back to lawyers in just two seconds, but my grandparents used to love to play bridge and something called kings on the corners. All the adults would sit down to play bridge. I was an only child and odd, as you can imagine, I wore penny loafers, and I carried a briefcase. I know, my fellow only child. I was actually more mature as a first grader than I am now. They would sit down and play bridge, and my grandmother would put coffee in a little creamer cup, and I’d sit there. I loved having conversations as a kid, and I loved playing cards. I was playing bridge like in the second or third grade. I was just weird. That gave me that sense of, don’t be intimidated to have conversations with another human being, even if they’re in a position of authority, but still respect their knowledge that you don’t have.
I think that laid that groundwork for me. Then, when I moved to the healthcare system years later, I started attending the executive meetings because no one knew how to hook up the PowerPoint projector to a laptop. They were intimidated by it. “Let’s have that kid in planning come. He can sit there and run the PowerPoint projector.” I’m sitting in these meetings advancing slides, sometimes making changes to slides because Deloitte was like bootcamp. You learned PowerPoint, you learned Excel, you learned Word, and you were good at it. You were fast. I could make changes on the fly before a board meeting, and I can’t help myself. That kid who played bridge with his grandparents started asking questions and saying, “Wouldn’t it be better if we said this? How about that?”
I’ve made this connection. I have this conversation and the executive teams – I was like Robin to the Super Friends – They started to bring me in. I then started taking all the minutes. I started putting the agendas together. I then became a vocal member of the executive committee by de facto. Now, I’ve taken those lessons, and I would say that with each law firm I’ve been in, don’t assume because of your title or where you are that you suddenly get a voice in every conversation. That’s not human nature. People and attorneys are not quick to trust. That’s why they’re good at their work. They’re agnostic by nature. They argue to learn. They’re not mad at you. That’s just the way to express. Be prepared, come to the conversation, and be able to contribute.
By the way, when they ask you to do something, do it. Follow up on it. Communicate. I said this to one of my colleagues today, “Seeming more nervous than the attorney, over the thing the attorney is nervous about, and they will love you for it.”
Gina Rubel: That’s brilliant.
Roy Sexton: That has helped serve me well. I think a hard lesson I had to learn going from healthcare to legal, is healthcare is very data oriented, and the doctors want to see all of the data before they’ll agree to a decision. If you show the lawyers all the data, you will never leave the room again because all they see is discovery and problems. You have to know the risks. If you’re assuming the risk on their behalf, and you care as much about the firm as they do, they will trust you.
Gina Rubel: You hit the nail on the head. It’s really about speaking their language and understanding as well. I remember we talked about that. That was part of our presentation at that first panel that we spoke on. It was about understanding the language and the needs, and understanding your audience, which is what we do as marketers and PR executives.
You are very active in the Legal Marketing Association. You serve on the international board of directors. I’m not going to read the list of all of the things you’ve volunteered to do over the years and really in a very short amount of time, Roy. I’ve been a member for almost 18 years, and I’m pretty sure you’ve done more than I have, which is really generous. What drives that? Where does the energy come from and what does it mean to those people who might want to get involved in the future?
I was that kid, I bet you were too. My high school yearbook was ridiculous with all the clubs that I was part of just because I enjoyed the act of learning. I feel, again, with my natural inclination toward introversion, I do better when I’m in a cohort. That happened with my MBA program and the leadership programs. I liked being with a group of people over some period of time because no one will remember this, but when you first met me, I’m pretty quiet. I’m trying to figure out how I fit in. I ask a lot of questions and then once I’m in, I don’t shut up. I’m sorry for that, but part of my LMA volunteering has been my ego, I’ll be honest. It was about feeling special. Having somebody tap you on the shoulder and saying, “You can be on the Midwest board. You can speak here.” It makes you feel like you have a purpose in life, and you should be here. I’m telegraphing my insecurity, but we all have it. Just having somebody say you’re important enough, and we love you enough. We want you to hear that. That’s partly why I do this stuff.
I also like being with a group of people that I get to just have fun with, and talk about ideas, and figure out how to solve a problem. It’s funny. This board work, whether it’s the Legal Marketing Association, Ronald McDonald house, or Mosaic Youth Theater, or when I was in the fraternity and I was president, the same patterns emerge. You set yourself up for critique. You wonder, “Why did I do this to myself? Why is everybody being so mean to me? I just got this job yesterday. I don’t know which end is up.” The benefit far outweighs the difficulty, and I’ve been selfish in my rationale for it. I also do genuinely feel grateful that people like you held out a hand to me. I’m grateful that people in my life, my parents, their friends, and people I knew in school took me in and said, “I like you. Let me show you what I know.” I’m not religious, but I do believe karma is a thing. I think you’ve got to refill the well, and you’ve got to do good for the world. You’ve got to try to be helpful. Sometimes, in the midst of the committee work, you’re like, “Why am I trying to help people?” It’s so important. I think I’ve grown a lot, and then I’ll bring it back around to my firm and the places that I’ve worked. I think there is a benefit professionally, when people see that we participate in the same.
To answer the last part of your question, if somebody is new to any organization and legal marketing, especially, you do simply have to raise your hand. Alex Woodley in Chicago is a good example of that. She’s great. She just says, “I’ll do something.” She’s like an Archie comic book character. She’s full of life and happy. Her career is growing. She can go back to her firm and say, “Look, I did this thing.” We know lawyers love that we have these credentials and do these things because it’s exposure for the firm. It’s additional acknowledgement and networking for them. In this social media age with interconnected networks, they benefit business development greatly. Those are all the factors that I think go into why I do some of that stuff.
Gina Rubel: I love your honesty. One of the things that we both know is the people we get to work with in this organization and in this profession are some of the smartest people we can ever be exposed to. It’s great to just to be a part of these thought leadership groups and constantly grow knowledge. I am much like you. I have to constantly learn, to the point that sometimes I’m like, “I can’t believe I didn’t read anything today. I was too busy to read that article.” It’s that hunger to constantly grow, learn, and do better. I know that about you too, and that it’s not just ego driven. We both know that we’re surrounded by people smarter than us, where we can both add value and learn value.
Roy Sexton: You talked about family briefly. I see the love and respect you have for your parents and the influence they had on you. We’ve talked about some of that privately. I won’t bring some of that up. I feel the same way with my parents. I know you feel that way about your husband. I feel that way about my husband. Your kids are like that. I like being around people who are similarly inquisitive. Sometimes, I’m trying to do my own thing, process my own thoughts, and learn my own things, and someone in my life is like, “Hey, I just read a thing.” And I’m like, “Ugh, will you please be quiet? I want to think about the thing I learned.” My parents won’t stop learning, being inquisitive, or getting angry alongside MSNBC and the world. They’re constantly sponging up things, thinking about connections, and asking how things could be better. I hope I stay that way. I think it’s important. Why else are we here?
Gina Rubel: Personally, and professionally, we’ve gotten to know each other over the years. I’ve taken my daughter to a national conference. Other people have as well. We all know your mom, Susie Sexton. I mean, we haven’t met her in person yet. We all know your husband. It’s such a joy that we get to share that intersection between business and personal. That’s really something that’s changed in all of the industries, as people have been working from home this year. I think we’ve set the stage to make that easy.
One of the things you told me is, and I was curious about this, is that you’ve been managing an international team. How did that help you as it related to going virtual and working from home?
I’ve been in this role for one year and 10 months. Not that I’m counting, but I was looking at my LinkedIn. Of course, the last four months feel like for years for most of us. But, I found the first few months so difficult because if you worked in an office space where you can touch everybody and talk to everybody, and your own team — you can manage them. If you don’t have a team, you’re on your own and that’s its own comfort. I know people in Texas, California, the East Coast, and my boss is in Dublin. I had to understand time zones. Anybody who knows anybody from Indiana knows, we do not understand time zones and never had to worry about them. We were the one state that was like, “Nope, we don’t do that.” Johnny Carson was on at 10 sometimes, 11 other times, because that’s what we knew about time zones. I had to go your four and five hours, and because of my inquisitive nature, I wasn’t turning off. I was just going, going, and going.
We had a fairly tumultuous first few months because people are coming and going from the team. It’s an organization influx. We’re bringing in new offices and attorneys, and they’re new to the organization themselves. They want, want, and want. I was burning the candle at every end possible, but then I realized that it didn’t matter where anybody was. I’ve always been able to do my job from the moon, so why couldn’t anybody else? We, as a team, adopted tools like Zoom early on. Asana is a tool we use to manage our production. We have really steady drum beat meetings as a larger team, as sub-teams, and one-on-ones. If you approach it with that kind of intentionality, it doesn’t matter where you are.
Then, you come to a moment like this and you go, “that was prescient of us. Wow! We have built a strong team. We were able to recruit some people, and everybody knows their lane.” Selfishly, some of the stuff that I hated having to deal with, wasn’t available anymore. We didn’t have to worry about it in-person events. We didn’t have to worry about sponsorships – the stuff that just feels like peat gravel for me in marketing. I’m like, “Why are we doing these things?” There’s not much benefit from it. I, like you am wired for PR, media, thought leadership, and digital. That’s all we have. Everything I’ve been proselytizing about and working with the team on, that’s what we were ready to turn and do. We were in a great position to help the firm out. We’d already been through the storming and norming as a team virtually. Because we’ve been very intentional about our time together, and my boss Susan, you got to meet her in Atlanta, I call her an ass kicker. And I don’t think she likes it very much, but she’s Prada head-to-toe.
Gina Rubel: She’s incredible.
Roy Sexton: And she’s a little like Karen Walker sometimes from Will & Grace. She’ll say, “The other day I was with Matt Damon” who was wandering through her neighborhood. And I’m like, okay, but you know, she just lives life like that. She’s one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met. She’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had and is so invested in the culture of our team, bringing those bonds, cementing them and caring about the personal and professional.
She will start every meeting with, “How are you? How are you feeling? Are you in balance? How’s John, how’s Lucy, the dog that is aging?” Those personal questions come first. Then, we get to the order of the business, and we do really good strategic work. You walk away from that going, “Wow, I’m working at a higher level. I can then share that with the teammates that I am so blessed — and I don’t use that term ever– to work with and support. I think we’ve built a really good work family, and we were in a great place to be ready.
Gina Rubel: That’s fabulous. Knowing that it came out of relationships from a professional service organization where people are getting to know one another. Of course, you had the expertise to get the job, but it’s not always that, it’s often who you know, and who’s going to help open a door and be the first to the table with the credentials.
Roy Sexton: Right. This job, whether they saw it in me, or I realized that after the fact, everything I’ve done in my career up to this point, I’m firing on all cylinders. The media relations work I learned when I was at Oakwood Healthcare and the complex organization, a matrix organization, where you have hospital leadership and corporate leadership, I hadn’t had that at most of the law firms up to that point. But, then, what I knew of legal, and having worked in a couple of different kinds of firms, a mortgage foreclosure firm — that we know is very different than any other kind of firm. Then, that small white-shoe firm, and then to go to Clark Hill. I’ll also say my theater background is sometimes the thing that’s most beneficial to me — how to build a team, how to know how to perform, and to know that bad actors are the ones who only worry about their own performance. The best actors are the ones who know how to make everybody on stage good because then the audience enjoyed the entirety of the play. The lead actor is highlighted more fully because they see the entirety of the production being good. Some of those things that I learned in other places and other opportunities have really helped.
Gina Rubel: I still remember when we were able to see an entire streamed program of one of your shows that you were in.
Roy Sexton: Edwin Drood.
Gina Rubel: Just to have the opportunity to see you in that light and for you to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to share that with us, it was a lot of fun.
Roy Sexton: Thanks
Gina Rubel: You’ve always talked about not wanting to leave anyone behind. You shared a story about being the kid in the fraternity. By the way, which fraternity was that?
Roy Sexton: Lambda Chi Alpha.
Roy Sexton: Well, we were not favored there at Drexel. We were nice at Wabash.
Gina Rubel: I had some very good friends and even one person that I’m still friends with to this day, from Lambda Chi.
You invited 20 people to go to a movie because you went door to door, letting people know that a few of you were heading out. You mentioned that you believe every voice brings a unique and necessary perspective. In times in our lives, where many of us continue to fight to be recognized for benefits of being more diverse and inclusive, tell our listeners a little bit more about why you believe diversity, voice and perspective is important and why you would just pull all these people together and do that.
I know what it’s like to feel left out in life, and that’s not as a gay man or anything like that. To be honest with you, I’ve always felt different from everybody else. Sometimes, that hurts. In first grade, people picked on me all the way home because I had penny loafers and a briefcase. It was a good reason. I learned to make people laugh and by making people laugh, they became my friends. The people that were awful to me in first grade were my best friends.
I don’t know what that says about my psychology, it’s probably not healthy. But I knew what it felt like to be hurt by people, and I didn’t know why. We moved to a new town in the eighth grade, and I got invited to a lunch table of who I thought were the popular kids. It’s such a funny concept of popular kids. You get to sit with them, and then they decide one day they didn’t want you sitting there anymore. I had been sitting with my cousin, and I left that table to go sit with these people. I’m sure my cousin was like, “Thanks a lot.” Then, I had to go back to that table and go, “Can I sit here again?” Why that sticks in my brain? But, I know how that feels. It’s awful.
I know that some people get jabs over leaving people out. Some people feel there just isn’t enough for everybody, so I’ve got to leave people out to get my own. I hate that. It’s not right. It’s just not correct. Since I’ve done a lot of bad theater, I believe fully that you have to figure out the best that people can bring because they’re who you have. Don’t just assume you’re going to go into an organization and fire the whole team and hire a new one. You’re just introducing problems. Learn what’s there. Learn what’s happened before. Learn that people were there doing what they felt was their best work. Help them be better, bring every voice forward, and learn to listen. I’m bad about it. I talk over people. I jump in. I go, “Oh, I got the answer.” I’m trying to do better about that because I know, inadvertently, and I’ve learned in the last few years, I think I’m pretty woke as the kids say. Then I go, “Oh, I have no idea.”
During our last election, and I’m sure you don’t want me to get into politics, I did learn through that, from my women friends, what the term “mansplaining” even meant. Sometimes, I thought I was being helpful when I interrupted, saying, “What I think what Gina was trying to say was…” or “Did I interrupt you? Well, you go ahead and speak.” I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I was reaffirming a toxic masculinity that I didn’t even know pre-existed, that I inherited.
At the end of the day, we have a brain, and whatever is in the outside shell is irrelevant. You’ve got a wonderful brain. I think I’ve got a pretty decent brain. Why can’t we bring those minds together? It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing, where they came from, or what color their skin is. It really is irrelevant, except that their outer shell has affected their life experiences and does add to the wisdom they have. That’s where diversity in its broadest sense is so powerful. There are macro categories and there are micro categories of diversity. We were just talking about Greek life. We both have that in common. That impacted us in different ways. I don’t know that I believe in Greek life as an adult, but it had a very powerful impact on me as a kid. There are different things that affect us then. I’m obsessively thinking about patterns in my life that are influencing the way I am right now. Knowing that about myself, that means everybody who comes to the table has their own perspective that they can contribute. If you can find a space for that voice, get everybody involved. You’re going to come up with a hell of a lot better solutions than if you egotistically think you’re going to do it all on your own.
Gina Rubel: What’s fascinating, Roy, is I’ve often been told that I interrupt people. I speak over them. I think part of that is our excitement. We’re so passionate and empathetic.
Roy Sexton: Exuberance.
Gina Rubel: What I’ve taken from this new era that we’re in – this very open dialogue era – is that we all have so much to learn. Whether you’re a gay man learning what mansplaining is, or I’m a white woman learning to be comfortable saying that I’m privileged because I really didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand what it meant until I really started to open my mind and listen. One of the books I read was “How to Be an Antiracist,” and it’s incredibly well done. It really explained so much to me, that the only thing I can do is do better, with diversity and inclusion. Knowing that what you’re bringing is the mind to the table, and it’s nothing else. It doesn’t matter if you are a man, woman, gay, straight, other, or whatever.
Roy Sexton: Don’t take your access for granted. If you have access, then that’s what privilege comes down to. If I have access to something, and I got plenty of what I needed from that access, or more importantly, when I have access to a conversation, and I know I don’t know how to contribute to it, but I know I have a colleague who does, why don’t I step aside and go, “I’m the wrong person here. I assume I live in abundance. I will keep my job. You’re not going to fire me, and I don’t want to pretend to be everything. This is not something I know well. This colleague does. You should talk to them.”
Gina Rubel: Interesting. I just did that. I was asked to give a CLE on diversity and inclusion, and I said, “I am not the right person. I am a white, privileged female. This is no longer about women. This is a much bigger conversation, and you can get a diverse woman who has lived the experience that I can’t speak to. I helped this organization put together an incredible panel. I’m really proud to see that panel together. In fact, one of the lead speakers is an executive director of an ACLU in a particular state, and he happens to be a gay man. That’s what it takes because when you talk about your experience of being bullied, I have a very similar experience. I was terribly bullied. In fact, there was a time where I was afraid not to friend those people on social media, and I have since just shut them out. I decided I’m done with that. I’m done with feeling guilty for not allowing somebody into my life who had no remorse about the way they treated me.
Roy Sexton: We don’t talk about age very much. I think ageism and sexism are insidious in our culture, and they need to be addressed sooner rather than later. In addition to the racism, there’s so many isms that need to be gone, but I will say, as I’m getting older, I just don’t care. It’s liberating. It really is. In some of those instances I ask, “Why do I still care what you think? I haven’t seen you in 30 years.”
Gina Rubel: It’s not that you don’t care about them, or their health, or all of that. It’s just that dialogue is no longer relevant to who you are and where you are.
Roy Sexton: A friend of mine uses the term “mental space.” He explains that person is taking up more of your mental space, and you’re taking up theirs. Why are you letting that happen?
In deference to our listeners, we have a couple of minutes left because we can’t take all of their time. I would like to open up the floor to you to either talk about you in theater or you in philanthropy. I know that’s a tough one because you love both equally.
Let’s talk about theater for a minute. I think we did address some of the philanthropic side, at least what motivates me to volunteer. Theater is something I came to, late in life — late being college. Most people were in theater as young people in high school, and I did one play my freshman year of high school. They were doing “Annie, Get Your Gun” without music. I was like, “Hmm, no.” Then there was a show choir and I’m like, “Oh no, I don’t want to do that.” I would sing in the car. Nobody knew I sang. My parents didn’t know. Nobody knew. I love singing. I was like, I don’t want to do choir.
I got to college in the early nineties, Nirvana-listening, Clinton-loving, neoliberal. I was all about feminism and Camille Paglia and all that. I was into Shakespeare in a post-modern, Fuko interpretation. I was writing about Shakespeare a lot and particularly the male gaze toward women. They were doing “The Merchant of Venice” my junior year. I decided I needed to audition and do some Shakespeare, since I’m writing about it as text. I auditioned, and I got the part of Gratiano, who was the smart ass who gets all the great lines. I’m like, “Whoa, what is this thing?” Then, I auditioned for every show until I graduated and picked up a bunch of extra theater classes.
Then, I hit the snooze button because I’d never thought about having a career. I thought, I’ll just get a master’s in theater. I went to Ohio State, and I was on the theater career path, but I kept on auditioning for MFA shows and getting leads. It was driving everybody crazy. My thesis advisor was like, “What are you doing?” And I’m like, “Having fun.” I loved it, but I still hadn’t done a musical until even after that. Then, I went back to Wabash for a few years of work, and they were doing “The Fantasticks.” I got the lead role of Matt. It was so funny. My mother tells me she was terrified. She’s like, “He doesn’t sing. Why is he in ‘The Fantasticks?’ Oh God, what are we walking into?” Then I opened my mouth, and she’s like, “Oh, he’s good. Okay.”
Gina Rubel: You know what I’m going to ask you next, right? What are you going to sing for us?
Roy Sexton: I’ve got to think of something. Do you remember the Popeye movie with Robin Williams? Harry Nielsen who did The Point – Me and my arrow, he wrote the score. There is a song, and I hope I can sing it, without crying because I love it. It’s called Swee’Pea’s Lullaby. [Visit timestamp 44:26 to hear Roy sing.]
Everybody needs to have somebody
Even if it’s only me
So stop your crying, Swee’pea
And try to go to sleeps
I don’t knows how you got here
I don’t knows if you cares
You could’ve come from Heavens
Or a typhoon anywhere
Oh me, I came from Heavens
Of Catalina Lagoon
And I was told me mommy
Gave me up in a typhoon
But don’t you cry, little Swee’pea
You and me, we’re both the same
And the biggest tear I ever seen
In the eye of a hurricane
Go to sleep, sleep, sleepy
I’ll tell you what you sees
And someday when you’re older
I’ll tell you all about me
Gina Rubel: Oh, my heart. I just got serenaded by Roy Sexton.
Roy, I am thrilled you could join us today. I’ve enjoyed our conversation so much, and I know our listeners have. Where can people learn more about you or get in touch?
I would say anywhere on social media, I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all under Roy Sexton and Roy E. Sexton. I don’t do TikTok. I don’t understand that. You can also find me through the Clark Hill website, if you want to email me that way.
We’ve been talking with Roy Sexton, Director of Marketing at Clark Hill.
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