On Wednesday, June 26, at 7 p.m., Raleigh Little Theatre will be hosting the 2019 Cantey Awards in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre. The Cantey Awards celebrate the end of the theatre’s season and recognizes the volunteers who make each show possible. The event is free and open to the public.

Jess Barbour, an actor and teacher at Raleigh Little Theatre and emcee of the 2019 Cantey Awards,  said that the awards allow everyone to celebrate the season and celebrate the individuals who are shown and those who are behind the scenes.

“The Canteys are an event that celebrates all of the volunteers for the year, whether that’s on stage or behind the scenes in the costume shop or an assistant stage manager,” Barbour said. “It’s Raleigh Little Theatre’s way of closing out the season and celebrating not only the season, but the people who made the season possible too.”

Charles Phaneuf, executive director of Raleigh Little Theatre, said nominees are picked by an anonymous group of actors, directors and other members of the theater, who are required to see every show, then vote on who they think deserves the awards.

According to Phaneuf, actors, directors and shows compete in categories such as Best Lead Actor, Best Lead Actress, Best Production and more. Other theatre volunteers compete in categories such as Best Newcomer and Best Technical Volunteer and are voted on by theater staff.

The awards are named after Cantey V. Sutton, the founder of Raleigh Little Theatre. Phaneuf said the awards were named to recognize the work of Sutton after the theater received a cease and desist letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during the 1975-76 season and were told that they could no longer call the awards “The Oscars.”

“She was a person who wanted a place to perform and for local actors to be able to put on shows, but also for there to be affordable entertainment for people to see, since the theater started during the Depression,” Phaneuf said. “She was the person who made all of the pieces come together.”

Each winner receives a white statue with several faces on it. This has been the same award since 1955. The award was designed by Bill Kaplan, then a fifth-year in design studies at NC State, who submitted his Easter Island-inspired design to Raleigh Little Theatre, which was chosen and has been used since, according to Phaneuf.

“Some people really love them, and some people think that they’re interesting,” Phaneuf said. “There’s a real diversity of opinion about them, but they kind of stuck and have become iconic, and it all goes back to this guy, Bill Kaplan. I’ve been in touch with him recently, and he was really excited to see that we’re still using them 60 years later.”

Phaneuf encouraged anyone who attended the 2018-19 performances to come to the awards ceremony. He did say, however, that if you have not attended the shows this season, it may not be entertaining.

Barbour said that people who have not experienced Raleigh Little Theatre’s season this year should try to attend the 2019-20 season or even participate, because it is a way to escape and forget about the stress of the day.

“You can brush away what happened during the day and get into costume or get ready for class, and you’ll always meet new people, and at the same time these people are going to become lifelong friends,” Barbour said. “I think being a part of that and having this space to come to try new things or be yourself is a really important aspect of the city that you live in. Even if you’re not in the show, just seeing the show allows you to forget about your day.”