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Success: Ruthie Nkut lands gig at prestigious repertory theatre

A familiar face and voice for YES Theatre audiences, Ruthie Nkut is headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a job at the Shaw Festival
Sudbury’s Ruthie Nkut, a familiar face and voice for YES Theatre audiences, has landed a gig at one of Canada’s most prestigious repertory theatres, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It's a cliché, but Ruthie Nkut really does have a smile that lights up a room. And these days, she has a lot to smile about.

The 27-year-old multi-talented performer, a familiar face to YES Theatre audiences, has just landed a job at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of Canada's most prestigious repertory theatres.

She has a swing position in the ensemble for "My Fair Lady," and will have to learn three roles in order to fill in for a performer at the last minute. The much-loved musical runs from May 4 to Dec. 22.

Nkut will also appear in "The House Will Not Stand," a play by Marcus Gardley, which is set in New Orleans in the early 19th century and is described as "a drama about the free women of colour." 

Hear Nkut sing below.

It is directed by Philip Akin, who Nkut, a trained soprano, worked with last spring at the Tapestry Opera in Toronto. Nkut played the role of the daughter of the main character, Maduka, in the world premiere of "Of The Sea," an opera with an all-Black cast about the slave trade.

Reviewer Tessa Maki wrote, "Canadian soprano Ruthie Nkut has a short time on stage as the grown-up Binyelum, but she makes a very positive impression with her bright, agile voice."

"Opera Canada" called her appearance "brief but charming."

Nkut attended Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School where she first met YES Theatre's general manager Scott Denniston. Denniston was the Beast and Nkut played Mrs. Potts in the school's production of "Beauty and the Beast."

She trained locally with Pamela Teed, who recognized her talent for opera. Her parents, Dr. Elaine Blacklock and the late Dr. Alfred Nkut, encouraged their daughter and arranged voice training in Toronto while she was still in high school.

When she graduated from Lo-Ellen, Nkut enrolled in pre-med at the University of Toronto.

It seemed like the right thing to do because "my parents are both doctors," she said. 

But after a year in pre-med, she switched to George Brown Theatre School.

Her first professional job after college was in "The Color Purple" at The Neptune Theatre in Halifax, N.S., directed by Kimberley Rampersad. 

Rampersad must have been impressed because she will be directing Nkut again in "My Fair Lady" at the Shaw.

"The (theatre) community is so small. Making connections is everything," Nkut said.

When the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020, Nkut was studying dance in New York City. She headed home to Sudbury.

The timing was right to get involved with Denniston and artistic director Alessandro Costantini at YES who were working on the ambitious Refettorio outdoor stage project. 

For YES she has appeared in numerous productions including the recent holiday production "Matilda."

"Ruthie has been an integral part of the success of YES Theatre for over a decade through her brilliant artistry," said Costantini. "She is an astonishing vocalist, a beautiful and gifted actor who has graced our community with an abundance of remarkable performances.

"The Shaw Festival is fortunate to have Ruthie and we are all so looking forward to seeing her on those world-renowned stages. She is also one of my best friends and I am so excited for this next great chapter of her life.”

Nkut was in rehearsals for "Matilda" when she got the offer from Shaw.

"I feel excited for the change and excited to work at this level," she said.

Currently she is the head of marketing and will continue in this role working remotely from Niagara-on-the-Lake.

As she packs for Niagara, she is enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead. She is interested in writing, directing and pursuing the potential of art as a force for social change.

"At my core I am an artist. ... Acting is just the thing I fell into knowing that I am an artist but I feel I will direct, will have a business … I  don't see myself being an actor when I am 70. 

"I have always been very interested in changing the world. I am interested in how art can help (do that)," she said

Vicki Gilhula is a freelancer writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.