From local theater roots to Emmy nomination, Rueby Wood is proof that talent, hard work and passion pay off
Tim Nekritz | email@example.com
From community theater in Oswego County to becoming the Emmy-nominated star in the Disney+ movie “Better Nate Than Ever,” Rueby Wood is showing how talent, hard work and passion can branch out into show business.
His mother, Gina Holsopple — a singer-songwriter, teacher and proprietor of Gina Marie Music Studios in Oswego — is well-known in the community for nurturing musical gifts. Charity, in this case, began at home.
“My mom threw me into community theater when I was 6 years old, so she obviously saw I was a dramatic kid,” Wood said.
Rueby’s first performances came with the Oswego Players and in Fulton at the CNY Arts Center. Soon his talents took to stages at Red House Theatre in Syracuse as well as Syracuse Stage — with the latter providing his first big break.
He was playing the role of Michael Banks in “Mary Poppins” at Syracuse Stage, and an agent for one of the leads, a touring professional, was in town. That agent happened to meet his mother and sister at a restaurant across the street and they talked him up. After the show, things fell into place with the agent.
“I started auditioning professionally when I was 9,” Rueby said. “Getting an agent led to auditioning in New York City for shows, then film and TV.”
His first big role soon followed. “I got cast in the first national Broadway Tour of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’” Rueby recalled. “I got to tour the country for about a year and a half performing. It was an experience I will never forget, truly one of the best times of my life.”
It meant a lot of adjusting, but he credits his family and friends for supporting him in everything.
“My mom is just incredible; she was just always there to say yes to every little idea. Everything I ever wanted to do, she’s always had my back,” Rueby said. “When I decided to go into the professional world, it would have been so easy for her to say no. Instead she said, ‘we’re going to make this work no matter what.’”
Then everything came to a halt, courtesy of the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which “stopped everything hard,” Rueby recalled. “It’s been a wild ride, doing a lot, doing nothing and then doing a lot again.”
Getting past the ‘no’
A huge highlight of that “a lot” is the momentous experience of playing the lead role in the Disney+ movie “Better Nate Than Ever.” The film mirrors every theater kid’s dream of going to Broadway and having an unbelievable experience. But the road to this fairy tale experience for the performer was far from easy.
“Before you can get a ‘yes’ in the audition world, you have to get so many ‘no’s, and I’ve had more than I can count,” Rueby said. But the role of Nate “instantly felt right,” he said. “I read the script, I listened to some of the music and I loved it.”
The initial audition “went really well” and was followed by “so many callbacks for about two months,” Rueby said.
They had found the female lead playing Libby — Aria Brooks — really early and “tried out all the Nates,” Rueby said. On their Zoom together, the two had really good chemistry and Rueby was offered the lead role.
Then the whirlwind began.
“In a week they wanted me to pack up and come to New York City to film,” Rueby said, the excitement still present in his voice. “It was so much fun being able to go to New York City and to go to all these places and film this amazing movie.”
In a glowing review for RogerEbert.com, Nell Minow offered high praise, noting “becoming a Rueby Wood fan right now will make sure you will not miss a moment from a performer who is already a master of comedy, drama, singing and dancing. Someday, when he wins a Tony, you will want to be able to say, ‘I saw him in his first movie.’”
And while that Tony might still be on the horizon, Wood did receive a nomination from the Children’s and Family Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Performance.
Rueby speaks by phone between rehearsals for “Cats” at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where he is a junior musical theater major.
“The rehearsal process for that has been so much fun,” Rueby said. “Everything is so high quality. This has truly been one of the most incredible times of my life and I’ve made some of the closest friends I’ve ever had.”
In the production, which ran in early November, he played Bustopher Jones, a rather hedonist cat who mainly thinks about food and other pleasures and Alonzo, more of an ensemble cat that involves a lot of singing and dancing. It’s one more way he’s learning to stretch himself and showcase versatility.
But wherever he goes and whatever he does, Rueby doesn’t forget about his community theater roots.
“Everyone has to start somewhere and I loved doing community theater because you develop such a family there,” Rueby said. “I don’t think I’d be here today without that start and giving me my love for theater.”
For those with artistic aspirations of any level, Rueby advises not to let fear get in the way.
“If you have a love for theater or for art or anything creative — if you have a love for that and that’s what you want to do, you have to go forward,” Rueby said. “It will be hard and there will be ups and downs, but if you love something enough, that love will get you through.”
What the pandemic and the many other problems of the world have shown is that the need for art and for beauty and things people can enjoy are perhaps more important than ever.
“Art is something that is a universal language,” Rueby said. “We need more artists, we need more theater performers. It’s something the world needs more to not descend into complete chaos.”
Whatever roles are ahead for him, for now Rueby is having plenty of fun living out his dreams.
“I get to wake up every day and do what I love,” he said. “It’s so amazing.”
TIM NEKRITZ is director of news and media for SUNY Oswego, where he spearheads telling the stories of the campus community.