Hart House Theatre is currently preparing for the debut of its first production of the season, Bone Cage, which opens this Friday. Bone Cage is written by Catherine Banks and tells the story of the 22-year-old Jamie, who lives in a small rural town and finds himself dissatisfied with his job in the clear-cutting business.

The Medium sat down with Bone Cage director and UTM grad Matt White amid his busy schedule of rehearsals to talk about what audiences can expect to see and his vision of the play.

The Medium: The protagonist of Bone Cage is a young adult. What relevance do you think audiences who are around his age can take from the play?

Matt White: It’s a terribly human story. I mean, it’s set in Nova Scotia, but we’re not concerned about setting it in Nova Scotia. To me, it is a universal tale. [Banks] has been so specific with the details of this world that she’s created that it becomes universal. And so anyone who’s grown up in a small town, anyone who’s grown up in a pocket of Toronto, in an oppressive family, can empathize with these characters. Anyone who feels that they don’t have an actual choice in their life can empathize with these people.

TM: I saw that Catherine Banks is going to be participating in some talks with the audience and with students. Does that feel like added pressure on you and your crew to do the play justice, or is it simply nice to have her there to provide more insight?
MW: It’s a delicate balance. I haven’t actually talked to her yet, because I’ve needed to give myself space. But from everything that I’ve understood from her, she understands that space. I mean, this is a very collaborative art form, but then sometimes you have to allow yourself the freedom to create in your studio and then share it. So there was pressure. Because we are anticipating to make it our own show. To take her story and have the message and the themes and everything come to light through our interpretation.

TM: Do you consider it an environmentalist play?
MW: No, I don’t consider it an environmentalist play. If anything, I consider it a humanistic play. It deals with the human condition more […] I mean, the environment is the backdrop and the environment is sort of this force that acts on top of it and within it. But if it wasn’t environmentalism it would be Hamilton and factories and Toronto’s east end […] But [Bone Cage] has its own beautiful poetry and grittiness.

TM: You have a fairly extensive body of work when it comes to directing plays. What are some of the unique challenges that Bone Cage has offered, compared to the other plays you’ve done?
MW: For the most part, everything else I’ve done has been independent, and so I’ve been producing it, or I’ve been helping produce it, or something. And I’ve had a hand in creating the budget or there hasn’t been a budget. And so now we have a budget and now we have people who are actually in places and doing things, and so making sure that I can maintain proper communication with those people [has been a challenge]. A lot of the logistics of things are so much different when you get to work on a level like this. And that’s also what I think makes it a great training ground for people, because all of a sudden they have to answer to more people than just themselves or their buddies. [… I have] a hope and a responsibility to make sure I don’t let them down. It’s not about just coming in here and doing your interpretation of something because you want to be artistic and funky and weird. You have to also make sure that it all makes sense and is justifiable and is speaking to a specific audience.

TM: Catherine Banks has talked in interviews about how she had a lot of trouble finding someone to produce Bone Cage after she had first written it, and that it made her wonder if people didn’t think it was good. That’s obviously not true, since it went on to win the Governor General’s Award, but was there a time in your career where you faced similar roadblocks that made you doubt yourself? And what advice would you give to young people who might be questioning their own talent or dreams?
MW: Every day I question it. And it never goes away. You kind of think, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel comfortable and confident,” and every day you’re second-guessing and questioning and all this. And I think it’s actually better if you do that. I mean, Saturday I woke up at three in the morning and had a panic attack about the height of some of the pieces in the play. And then I questioned, is this going to fall flat on its face and are people going to laugh us out of the theatre? You know? And the thing is, no one can take away your dream, but keep that mentality over there. Don’t let it kill you and don’t push it away so much that you get so egotistical and so believing your own hype that you lose sight of what you’re actually doing this [for]. I’m not doing this because I want people to know Matt White. I’m doing this because I want to create good art. And so as long as we all try to remember what it is we got into it for—that it’s about the art form and it’s not about a personality. If you’re in it for your personality, you’re going to have a short shelf life, because personalities come and go. And what people want from people comes and goes. So be true to yourself. Figure out what it is that you want, and […] hold onto it as long as you possibly can.

Bone Cage runs at Hart House Theatre from September 20 through October 5. For more information, visit harthouse.ca/bone-cage.