Christopher Lawrence Menard’s play, The Best Man, is being staged for the 20th anniversary season of Korda Artistic Productions in Windsor. The play, which explores love and relationships in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and beyond, has become a cultural landmark since its premiere in 2007. Menard shared his thoughts on the play’s inspiration, evolution, and updating process in an interview.
“I wrote The Best Man after attending the local PRIDE Fest in 2006 and realizing that there was a place for the performing arts in the festival lineup,” Menard explained. “I recognized there was an audience craving stories where they saw people like them in lead roles, relationships like theirs playing out in front of them, and where all of their strengths and flaws, successes and missteps were represented and visible.”
Menard also shared that the play has many autobiographical elements. “When I wrote The Best Man, it was at a time when I felt I had something to say about love and relationships, when I was brave enough and felt confident enough to say it, and when I knew enough about writing for the stage that I knew how I wanted to say it.”
Reflecting on the play’s evolution since its premiere, Menard said, “In 2007, Korda Artistic Productions was still fairly new on the local performing arts scene. This meant we had a small troupe of actors who took on all the roles, designed and created all the shows, and spent most of every day together. That 2007 production was fueled by an intimacy that comes from a family of actors all playing together to help a make-believe world come to life.”
The first remount in 2009 allowed Menard to refine the play’s dialogue and staging. “2009 was about strengthening the story and inviting everyone to see the show again and feel like it was a new experience. And it was,” he said.
Now, in 2023, Menard has updated the play for its anniversary staging. “As a playwright, stepping back into the world of The Best Man has been a treat. I’ve felt joy at realizing the story resonates today as strongly as it did sixteen years ago,” he shared. “There are new terms that exist in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community that didn’t really exist strongly back in 2007. People have ways of identifying and tribes they belong to today that weren’t as visible or vocal when the show was first written. I’ve found ways to acknowledge and honour those evolutions without changing the core story in The Best Man.”
The new staging of The Best Man promises to be fresh, vivid, and packed with heart and soul. Menard is excited about the play’s role in celebrating Korda Artistic Productions’ milestone 20th anniversary. “I like that the play is once again rooted in a larger celebratory moment, that we’re partnering with Windsor-Essex PRIDE Fest all these years later, that we are performing on the second stage to be created in The KordaZone Theatre,” he said.
It’s a play that is both comical and treacherous and one that’s always moving. Instead of traditional scene breaks, the play uses lighting and music to move the story forward.
Menard said, “It’s about the power of the past to impact the present, and what happens when we fight off the need to make amends in life. It’s also about identity and self-expression, and how much bravery is required to stand up and be who we are.”
The play’s plot revolves around the concept that “It Gets Better,” and we find our tribes, choose our families, and that early relationships that can batter us are often followed by connections that help us soar, make us smile, fill us with love, and give us soft places to land.
The play’s premiere in 2007 included a special ceremony that joined same-sex couples on stage, a moment that Menard describes as “incredible”. “These were legal and legitimate marriages under the authority of the Canadian Marriage Act, and through an official Ontario marriage license”, Menard stated in an interview. The ceremony, organized in partnership with Windsor PRIDE and local marriage officiant Joe McParland, celebrated the two-year anniversary of the Civil Marriage Act legalizing same-sex marriage in Canada, and gave American same-sex couples an opportunity to get married on stage, an experience that left a lasting impact on the audience and cast members alike.
But The Best Man is not just about same-sex relationships, nor is it simply a relationships comedy/drama. Menard hopes audiences will find something of themselves in the story and characters, that they will be inspired to make amends where needed, find ways to closure, and start important conversations. He also hopes that the show will empower younger audiences, especially those struggling to be themselves, to recognize the support systems and safety nets that exist in their lives.
The Best Man has had a significant impact on the lives of some audience members as well. Dan MacDonald, who saw the premiere in 2007, was inspired to become a performer with Korda, and sixteen years later, he is part of the play’s cast. Joey Wright, who saw the production’s return in 2009, used the messages of the show to create the area’s first-ever Gay-Straight Alliance in response to bullying at his high school. Now, he directs the play alongside Menard and plays the groom.
The Run for Rocky Legacy Project benefitting Gay-Straight Alliances has arranged a special matinee performance of The Best Man during its run. Menard hopes that the play will continue to inspire audiences to show up for the people in their lives who need them and tell their stories. “We never know who needs to hear what we have to say,” Menard said.
Menard is thrilled that The Best Man is opening the season. “It’s truly special for The Best Man to kick off the season because the show represents the magic of Korda and some of what Korda does best,” he said. “It began as a project to create an original piece of theatre that celebrates diverse storytelling and gives actors and audiences alike the opportunity to share something unforgettable together. The company’s founders – Tracey Atin and Robert Godden – and those of us who have been there since the beginning – myself and Jeff Marontate, for example – set out to build a place where folks from all walks of life could come together to play, to make art, to tell stories, and to have a positive impact on the community. We’ve really done that here, and that’s so very special.
Menard, who has been with Korda Artistic Productions since the beginning, said, “Korda has always included stories of under-represented communities in their productions, and I think it’s safe to say we are the local company that has most celebrated the 2SLGBTQIA+ community over the years.”
The company has produced plays such as The Rocky Horror Show, Charles Busch’s Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, and many more. They have also staged Menard’s original DRAG Trilogy, which was a celebration of family and love.
But, there’s a lot more to Menard than just this one play. As a writer, Menard’s approach is to start and stop projects until something really grabs him.
He explained, “the stories come to me in fits and starts, often. But when a project really grabs me, and when it screams to be written, like The Best Man did sixteen years ago, I’m all in.”
Menard’s work is deeply rooted in his personal experiences, and he doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable aspects of his life. “As a writer, I’m interested in what happens to people, what they say to themselves and to each other about what happens, the words they use to say it, and everything that gets left unsaid,” he said.
The Best Man is a prime example of this approach. Menard revealed, “when I wrote The Best Man, it was on the heels of an intense relationship coming to an intense end. And while it is mostly fictionalized, there is enough truth in the characters and the dynamics that I was writing it while I was processing the experience itself. The writing was cathartic.”
Menard’s recent published poetry memoir, at the end, beginnings, was also born out of personal grief following the loss of his father. “Even the beautiful, positive poems – those focusing on my son – were created through the lens of grief,” he shared. “I think audiences find many ways into my stories, poems, etc., to the heart and soul of the works because they are unfiltered. Because they are real.”
Menard’s calling to pursue a career in the arts is rooted in his passion for creativity and his desire to support other artists and creators. “I pursued a career in the arts because I was called to it,” he said. “Because it spoke to the truest parts of who I am – the writer, the actor, the artist, the dreamer.”
In addition to his impressive body of work, Menard previously had a positive experience submitting a screenplay version of The Best Man to the prestigious Nicholls Fellowship in Screenwriting competition. The work scored in the top 10% that year. When asked about the experience, Menard beamed with pride, stating, “That was a fantastic, surreal moment. Submitting is a nerve-wracking and very vulnerable process. Having The Best Man screenplay make it through two positive readings by their judging panel, and score high in the contest was one of those moments you hang on to as a writer, where you feel some validation that the work, the audience reaction, and the overall relevance and importance of the story truly matters… and that people get it.”
Menard’s work in arts, culture, and heritage for the City of Windsor has also influenced his writing. “What kept coming up for me is how much the arts, culture and heritage aspects of a community are intertwined and interconnected,” he noted. “There’s so much to learn and to draw inspiration from in the history and stories of a place.”
He developed the City of Windsor’s Poet Laureate & Storytellers Program and helped to rebrand Museum Windsor and the Culture division under the theme of “Telling Our Stories…Sharing Yours.”
This vision and mission have influenced his work as an individual artist in the community, where everything he writes is about storytelling.
As he puts it, “It’s all about finding the path to celebrating our similarities and differences in equal measure… about honouring all that unites us as well as all that sets us apart.” Menard believes that capturing, preserving, and sharing stories is at the heart of the arts, culture, and heritage aspects of a community, and he is committed to continuing this legacy through his writing.
Ultimately, Menard’s writing is about exploring universal themes that matter to him – love, relationships, family, loss, creation, sharing, taking, and leaving. “Those things show up all over my writing, and – certainly – all throughout The Best Man,” he said.
Through his dedication to his craft and his willingness to dive deep into his own experiences, Menard has created a body of work that speaks to the heart and soul of his audience.
As he himself puts it, “I think I’m at my writing best when I’m not shying away from real life, but rather when I’m using my real life as a jumping off point to tell a story that’s universal, that has something for everyone, that matters to others because it comes from a place of what matters to me.”
The Best Man runs from April 14-29 at The KordaZone Theatre, 2520 Seminole Street. Windsor. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit www.kordazone.com.