Conner Riley is still learning what it means to be a director, but he knows one thing for sure: It feels good to stop thinking for a while.
That's partly why the 19-year-old Albany resident chose "The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon" for his directorial debut. The show opens Friday at Albany Civic Theater.
"I tend to do a lot with my life and I kind of just take on too many things," said Riley, who is juggling culinary arts studies at Linn-Benton Community College while working at the Enchanted Forest theme park in addition to directing.
Riley chose this particular show for audiences because, "It's nice to go somewhere and kind of sit and have fun," he said. "There's not a lot of thinking going on."
"Spectaculathon" finds Narrators 1 and 2 (Megan Dorn and Serenity Wilson) attempting to combine all 209 of the fairy tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm — you know, the duo who brought the world classics such as "Cinderella," "Rapunzel" and "The Frog Prince" — into one stage production.
The Narrators have somewhat different viewpoints of how the show should proceed. The characters also have minds of their own. The result: Frenzied, energetic chaos mixed with a lot of laughter — and, of course, a happy ending.
Riley brought together 16 actors, many of them relatively new to the stage, to bring he Grimms' tales to life. Everyone plays at least two roles, and sometimes up to five.
That casting freedom is one of the things that drew Riley to the show.
"I liked this one because it wasn't super strict with what we could do with it," he said. "When you go see a show like 'Little Women,' or 'The Outsiders,' you expect something. With shows like this, you can do your own thing and you can have something that's unique, which I think is just so much more special."
Riley himself has been an actor since his days at Memorial Middle School and West Albany High School, performing in ACT's "The Butler Did It" and "The Lion in Winter" and working as assistant director and costume designer for ACT's "Pride and Prejudice" in addition to other theater jobs.
Zany comedy shows with room for audience interaction are among his own favorites to watch — but Riley also had something else in mind by choosing "Spectaculathon."
"Because I'm so young, I wanted to show people that I have some creative ideas," he said.
Among those ideas: letting the audience take in characters through their costumes rather than spending a lot of time on makeup, to keep backstage time to a minimum. Costumer Kellie McMahon was critical to this effort, Riley said.
Entrances and exits are also crucial with so much going on, so Riley arranged for actors to get onstage from the pit and a tower as well as from the wings. The different levels add visual interest and speed timing as well as easing the backstage crush. Scott Harvey's work as stage manager has been essential, Riley said.
Overall, the show has been a tremendous learning experience, and one Riley said he's eager to repeat — but maybe not for a couple of years.
"There's a lot a director has to do, and it is insane," he said. "I have giant, giant respect for people who do this."