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Cantey Awards Night 2021 – Volunteer and Youth Awards


The RLT staff after surprising Heather Strickland with the only 2021 Cantey Award. Photo by Cindy McEnery

RLT’s annual Cantey Awards night was held on Wednesday, June 30, in the Stephenson Amphitheatre. Instead of handing out individual performance awards like in years past, we invited volunteers, actors, directors, and more to share their unique experiences with each of the shows presented throughout our reimagined 2020-21 season. We celebrated the work of all the folks who joined us in creating theatre in new ways during an unprecedented year!

The event featured performances by John Langley and Aya Wallace, accompanied by Michael Santangelo.

Special congratulations goes to the winners of this year’s volunteer awards and youth initiative awards:

Haskell Fitz-Simons Distinguished Performer Award:

  • Brian Westbrook

Charles V. York Theatre Service Award:

  • Michael Dunavan

Glenn Amos Miller Technical Service Award:

  • Cailen Waddell

Ed Bodell Rookie of the Year Award:

  • Ariel Gray

Al D. Wolfheimer Volunteer Awards:

  • Morgan Harris
  • Todd Housekenecht
  • Russ & Heather Owen

Linda O’Day Young Youth Achievement Award:

  • Elikya Mwanda

Youth Initiative Awards:

  • Camille Clark
  • Emily Freer

The only “outstanding performance” Cantey Award given out during the night was a surprise from the staff to RLT’s executive director Heather Strickland. The award was given as a token of the staff’s appreciation for her guidance throughout a difficult year. Heather joined the RLT team a few months into the pandemic, and we are forever grateful to her for helping us keep the theatre afloat without missing a beat.

View an album of photos from the event by Cindy McEnery!

Brian Westbrook – Haskell Fitz-Simons Distinguished Performer Award

Presented by Patrick Torres

The Haskell Fitz-Simmons Distinguished Performer Award this year goes to Brian Westbrook. This award is given to individuals who serve the organization both onstage and off, and Brian has worked tirelessly over the years to make us a better organization. He is invested in the work we do and he shows up to help us achieve our goals. Brian shines in every show he is in, but his on stage impact is far greater than the performances you see. Brian is the perfect ensemble member – always there to offer a word of encouragement, to share a joke, and to inspire others. Off stage, Brian has not only worked on crews and served as an assistant director, but I often call him to help me work on season planning or to ask questions about whether my ideas for musicals are exciting. This year, Brian volunteered to direct two readings for our New Voices Sharing and served as a Diva where he was our second runner up. Brian is invaluable to me as a human being and friend, and RLT is a better place every time he shows up to help us reach our goals. I am honored to give this award to Brian.

Michael Dunavan – Charles V. York, Jr. Theatre Service Award

Presented by Dennis Berfield

It is my honor and privilege to give this award to Michael Dunavan. Michael re-joined us way back volunteering for the costume sale. I say rejoined because he’s been a long time supporter of RLT, took some time off, and is now back. Since then he has been involved with every single event and production in one way or another. More recently I’ve been monopolizing most of his time in the scene shop building set, clearing and organizing. As we have been picking up the pace with our outdoor productions I cannot express enough how I couldn’t have done it without him.
He and I were out here striking the remains of The Mountaintop set just this week. And earlier this afternoon he helped me setup the sound system and the small displays for the very ceremony he’ll be awarded in. Thank you Michael for Everything.

Cailen Waddell – Glenn Amos Miller Technical Service Award

Presented by Dennis Berfield

For this year’s Glenn Miller Award it is my pleasure to give this award to Cailen Waddell. Cailen’s support for RLT this past year has been vast and wide . He has been a supporter of RLT for decades and his knowledge and experience in his career was paramount during this difficult season. He not only lended his time and his talents as a lighting designer, but through much of his guidance we were able to take many of the past season’s shows into the virtual realm. We are lucky to have someone so dedicated to RLT’s mission and values and we can’t thank him enough.

Ariel Gray – Ed Bodell Rookie of the Year Award

Presented by Scott Wray

I am honored to be able to present the Ed Bodell Rookie of the Year Award to a front of house volunteer. We are extremely fortunate to get many newcomers to help with the front of house, but not all of them start as house manager. After attending a pandemic amphitheatre house manager training session, this recipient enthusiastically served as a house manager or usher for multiple performance of various productions and is always willing to help out. I appreciate her attention to detail, customer service and problem solving skills and I know the audience and ushers are in capable hands when she house manages. I am pleased to present the Rookie of the Year to Ariel Gray.

Morgan Harris – Al D. Wolfheimer Volunteer Award

Presented by Jenny Mitchell

Early last summer we decided to go ahead with the costume sale. I found myself working on it by myself for the first time ever, in the middle of a pandemic, and while I knew I could easily decide on what to sell I needed help organizing volunteers, schedule, money, our Etsy store and a whole host of other things I know I have forgotten. One of the most organized people I know volunteered to help: Morgan Harris can plan an event with her eyes closed, she came to nearly every work call, kept track of Etsy purchases and questions and organized everyone all while navigating a new job. I could not have gotten the sale planned without her help and I am so glad she was here to help make it a success.

Todd Housekenecht – Al D. Wolfheimer Volunteer Award

Presented by Patrick Torres

It is my pleasure to give the next Wolfie to Todd Housekenecht. Todd is such a good friend of the theatre, and it is safe to say we could not achieve so much of our work without his expertise, heart, and imagination. This year he helped bring us roaring back to life by showing up to reawaken the Sutton Theatre and Amphitheatre as soon as we were able to start holding performances again. After these periods of hibernation, the sound equipment needed some love, and Todd came in to troubleshoot, solve problems, and make us sound good again. We are indebted to Todd and are so grateful he so readily answers our calls. Thank you, Todd!

Russ & Heather Owen – Al D. Wolfheimer Volunteer Award

Presented by Heather Strickland

This dedicated duo has been volunteering at RLT for several years, most often ushering, working in concessions, and anything else needed to make sure audiences had what they need when attending performances. This year, front of house responsibilities looked a lot different – setting up cones to mark seating, making sure masks were being worn, managing several possible entrances to the amphitheatre, and of course, it was all outside. Russ and Heather still volunteered to usher for every in person show this year, ran concessions for Divas, and said yes to any other volunteer opportunity we had, including helping with a 400 letter mailing for our end of year campaign.

Elikya Mwanda – Linda O’Day Young Youth Achievement Award

Presented by Meredyth Pederson Cooper

The Linda O’Day Young Youth Achievement Award is presented to students who demonstrate a well rounded commitment to theatre, to Raleigh Little Theatre, and to their community. Individuals who receive this award are creative in spirit, generous with their time, dedicated to personal growth and enthusiastic about the positive impact they can have toward making this a better world. This year, the Linda O’Day Young Youth Achievement Award goes to Elikya Mwanda.

This year, RLT wanted to recognize Elikya with this award specifically for the work done to found, create and sustain Theatre in Color. In the words of the six teens who run this group, Theatre in Color is “a group of diverse students working towards uplifting the works of diverse playwrights.” Last year in June 2020, Elikya had an idea and a vision for a group that brought teens interested in theatre together to read and discuss plays by diverse playwrights to expand teens’ own knowledge of a diverse, inclusive theatrical canon and fill the gaps in their own theatre education. Throughout the year, Theatre in Color organized monthly play readings and discussions on Zoom and created a thoughtful virtual space for the teen community to connect and learn.

It was such a joy to see Elikya and the TIC team learn, grow and thrive in leadership roles as they worked together throughout the year. Elikya recognized a need in the community and Because of Elikya’s vision and leadership, Theatre in Color connected many teens with exciting diverse plays and playwrights, as well as with one another.

Congratulations, Elikya!

Camille Clark & Emily Freer – Youth Initiative Awards

Presented by Meredyth Pederson Cooper

The Youth Initiative Award is given to RLT Teaching Assistants in recognition of their dedication to the art of teaching theatre. This year RLT is excited to present this award to Camille Clark and Emily Freer.

Both Camille and Emily served as teaching assistants during a challenging year when most of the education department’s activity remained virtual. But both of them did not let the virtual medium hold them back from making a real impact on our classes for both our teaching artists and students.

Camille was the TA for several classes this year. April Perry, one of the teaching artists she worked with this year had this to say about Camille’s contributions to class:

Camille was wonderful to work with! She was always willing to play and led some amazing warmups and adventures! She definitely yes, and-ed the work and was always so willing to jump in when I needed her! Camille was the ideal teaching assistant!

Congratulations on your award, Camille!

Though well into her college career down the street at William Peace University, Emily Freer has stayed connected with the RLT education department as a teaching assistant, and she always brings so much kindness and enthusiasm to class. Teaching artist Barbette Hunter had this to say about Emily’s work this year:

What can I say about Emily? I am in awe of her never-ending abundance of grace and patience. Her love for teaching is infectious and invigorating. She always has a plethora of kind words to share with the students. She can find the silver lining in any cloud. She is a fantastic role model in the classroom and a phenomenal teaching assistant/teacher. I learn something new from her every time we meet for class.

Congratulations, Emily!