The Cantey V. Sutton Theatre was abuzz with energy and love on Wednesday night, June 29th, as the annual meeting and awards ceremony, The Cantey Awards, was held at Raleigh Little Theatre, in celebration of the community theater’s 80th season.
The annual event’s purpose is trifold. First, a brief “state-of-the-theater” meeting to highlight accomplishments, give financial updates, and welcome new board members. Second, a thank-you to the volunteers and technicians that keep the theater running throughout the season. Third, an awards ceremony to recognize outstanding performances and productions from the year.
The awards ceremony, emceed this year by previous Cantey winner Tina Morris-Anderson, assisted by RLT regular Heather Shinpaugh, included musical performances by the reunited casts of Miss Nelson Is Missing!, led by an always riotous Jesse R. Gephart, and Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Award presenters included RLT veteran costume designer Vicki Olson, production manager Todd Aberts, board President Mike McGee, artistic director Patrick Torres, and actors Lydia Kinton, Chris Maxwell, and Brent Wilson.
The Cantey Awards may have been called “The Oscars®” until 1975 (when a strongly worded letter arrived from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences), but the voting process is far simpler than the Academy Awards®. At the beginning of the season, 12 judges were nominated by the board. This secret cross-section of individuals includes former guest directors, grant makers, those with an active history within RLT, and volunteers. No judge may be involved in any production or related to a cast or crew member.
After seeing all 11 season shows (including the Raleigh Little Theatre Teens on Stage production of Runaways and the annual production of Cinderella), the judges make their picks; and the top three vote-getters in each category are announced as the nominees.
When the night is over, not everyone is always thrilled with the results. RLT executive director Charles Phaneuf has fielded a few phone calls and letters in his few years at RLT — statements that one winner was less deserving than another. “I tell them I’m glad to hear that people have opinions about this. I’m always happy to explain the process. There’s something healthy about disagreeing,” Phaneuf told Triangle Review.
The category in which a performer is nominated is determined by the production’s director. A Cameo Award has been a staple of the Cantey Awards since its inception and recognizes performances by actors with less stage time. Phaneuf explains that “A lot of what this place is about is participation.”
There have been some unique Cantey Award winners over the years. The 1988-89 season saw a joint award given for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Dan Mason and Terry Shippee shared the award for playing the two ugly stepsisters in that year’s Cinderella.
The Teens on Stage youth program is no stranger to nominations and wins either. This year Gabriela Alba was nominated for her supporting role in Runaways.
Performance awards for the 2015-16 season include:
- Best Production: Sweeney Todd, directed by Patrick Torres
- Best Performance by a Lead Actress: Rose Higgins for playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd
- Best Performance by a Lead Actor: Jesse R. Gephart for playing Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie
- Best Performance by a Supporting Actress: Tosin Olufolabi for playing Cheryl in Stick Fly
- Best Performance by a Supporting Actor: Brian Fisher for playing Patsy in Spamalot
- Best Performance in a Cameo Role: Michael McKenna for playing Snail in A Year with Frog and Toad
Service awards for the evening were presented to the following individuals:
- Haskell Fitz-Simons Distinguished Performer Award: Alison Lawrence
- Ed Bodell Rookie of the Year Award: Jen Leiner
- Glenn Amos Miller Technical Service Award: Jeremy Diamond
- Charles V. York Jr. Distinguished Service Award: Board President Mike McGee
- Youth Achievement Awards: Connor Gerney, Maddy Kunkel, Ben Mygatt, and Parker Perry
- Youth Initiative Awards: Dyland McKeand and William Taylor
- Al D. Wolfheimer “Wolfie” Volunteer Awards: Corliss Bradley, Georgia Donaldson, Ann-Marie Gerney, Tamara Hopson, Kathy Lagana, Don Miller, Gloria Rich, Silvia Scholl, Jim Shaughnessy, Julie Snee, Andrew Snee, David Snee, and Hannah Wolfert.
Special Awards were given to RLT Webmaster David Watts and RLT regular Jesse Gephart, whose previously won Cantey Awards were replaced after their loss in a house fire earlier this year — which is yet another example of the Triangle theater community bonding together to support its members.
The overall tone of the evening was one of support, welcoming, and love. When Tina Morris-Anderson emerged to perform the introductory production number (a parody of her Fairy Godmother song from Cinderella), technical difficulties demanded that she perform a cappella. Of course, technicians scrambled to fix the issue; but it was all handled with great humor by the entire room. A sense of community was evident immediately and the remainder of the evening went off without a hitch. As Morris-Anderson stated, “Welcome to live theater.”
Raleigh Little Theatre’s 2016-17 season consists entirely of material never produced at RLT: Bat Boy: The Musical (opening July 15th and running July 15-17 and 20-24); Memphis; Mothers and Sons; The Whipping Man; One Man, Two Guvnors; When She Had Wings; James and the Giant Peach; A Piece of My Heart; Avenue Q; and A Charlie Brown Christmas/Jingle Bell Jukebox. In December, Rod and Nancy Rich return to direct the 2016 edition of Cinderella, which enters its 33rd year.
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.