Family act

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Riley family is always looking for ways to entertain and in the end it usually revolves around family. - Eric Johnson/

Riley family has a knack for entertaining

If it seems like Amy and Ricky Riley and their five children are everywhere when it comes to the performing arts, that’s because they probably are.

But the Austin family isn’t necessarily out for recognition or fame. It’s mostly about being together.

Since moving to Austin, the Rileys estimate they’ve been part of at least 30 to 40 performances, including about 18 dance shows through Acclaim, a number of Summerset plays, church performances and many more.

Amy and Phillip were part of a group of Riverland students who traveled to New York to participate in Handel’s “The Messiah.” - Photo provided

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“It’s something we can do together,” Amy said. “It’s hard to find those kinds of things where everyone can be in one place at one time.”

In Austin, Amy and the five children made their performance debut with a Summerset Theatre performance of “Oliver.” Ricky didn’t perform because of conflict with work.

Phillip, the couple’s oldest child at 20, said performing is where the family comes together.

“We have such busy schedules that being able to perform together is one of the things we can all really get together on,” Phillip said.

Phillip added it also helps the family stay on the right path.

“Also it keeps our noses clean; it keeps us out of trouble,” Phillip said.

 A family priority

Amy and Ricky weren’t always sure they’d have the resources and means to make family the priority.

About 10 years ago, the family was living in San Diego, and Amy and Ricky decided to move back to southern Minnesota, where Amy graduated from high school in Worthington and where her parents lived in Austin.

While Phillip joked that his mother missed white Christmases, Amy and Ricky said the reason was more practical. Along with moving the children closer to their grandparents, the family knew the cost of living in San Diego would take a toll on the family. To make enough money, both Amy and Ricky may have had to work two jobs, and they knew they’d probably never own their own house.

“Who raises your kids if you’re both working two jobs?” Amy said.

Ricky recently told his children that he and Amy would have spent all their time supporting their children financially in California rather than raising them.

“It’s important to raise our kids rather than support them,” Ricky said.

So the family packed up and moved to Austin. For Ricky, it was a big change. He grew up in Miami, before moving to Washington, D.C., when he was in the Navy. He next lived in Dallas and then San Diego.

“I had never lived in a small town,” Ricky said.

Though Ricky admits there was culture shock moving to a small town, he said it was time to get away from the hustle and bustle of a big city. He hasn’t regretted the move.

“Moving here was our best decision because now we’re involved with our kids and building memories, and that’s important,” he said.

Amy agreed, noting that she likes how connected the community is.

“I love knowing lots of people; and I love being known, and I love that when my kids are out in the community people will recognize them,” she said. “And if something’s up, they let me know. I like that.”

Amy said she likes the opportunities to be involved.

“In a big city, there’s a lot more anonymity, and not in a good way,” she said.

Moving to Minnesota

Once they moved to Minnesota, the Rileys involvement in the performing arts increased.

In California, Ricky and Amy were on the worship team at their church, and there was a strong youth program for the children.

However, most opportunities to be involved came along with driving hassles.

“Here there’s a lot more opportunities,” Ricky said.

Many of the opportunities stem from Faith Evangelical Church. The family is involved in the church beyond attending Sunday mornings, from work in the nursery to helping with youth group to performing in church plays and musicals.

Amy grew up a pastor’s daughter, and her father was pastor at Church of Christ, the church Amy and Ricky attended when they first moved to Austin.

As their children grew older, Amy and Ricky decided to switch to Faith Evangelical Church, where there were more opportunities for youth.

“The church has always been very important in my life,” she said.

The Rileys have been on many mission trips to places like Haiti. Amy said people tend to be self-centered, and missions are a way for people to stay focused on others.

“It’s not church just for the sake of church,” Amy said, adding that each member of the family has his or her own religious experience and beliefs.

The family is looking to go back to Haiti again; they’re saying it’s important to look outside of themselves.

Amy said her children said they won’t complain about what they don’t have.

“They have absolutely nothing,” Phillip said.

The family has even performed on trips to Haiti and Jamaica.

Many talents

Everyone in the family has their own unique talents.

“We’re all very creative people,” Amy said.

Phillip, who is working at Applebee’s and attending Riverland Community College, prefers dancing and has even taught dance at Acclaim, but he said he’s gaining more confidence in his singing.

Amy, who works nights at a group home, enjoys performing in plays and musicals. But she also recently ventured into another passion: food. She opened her own catering business, Amy’s Edibles.

Sixteen-year-old Devin is homeschooled through a co-op called Vietas and has been in a number of performances. He’s also been on many mission trips to places like Haiti, and a recent trip to New Orleans.

Montana, 13, also attends Vietas Homeschool Co-Op and is active at Acclaim Dance Studio, and she sings. She sang at the Eagles Cancer Telethon this year.

Quinton, 11, is about to start fifth-grade at Sumner. Along with acting, he enjoys crafts, and Montana said he’s always creating something out of random things, like the figure of a person out of plastic forks. His father and the rest of his family also speak highly of a role in a recent play, where he delivered witty lines.

Eli, 19, works at the movie theater and teaches dance. He is a member of Ill-Diversityle, the dance group that tried out for “America’s Got Talent” earlier this year, but didn’t get in. They plan to audition for “America’s Best Dance” next January.

“That’s our main goal right now,” he said.

Even though they weren’t called back, Amy said the trip wasn’t a waste.

“The more auditions you have, the sharper you get,” she said.

Along with dance, the family described Eli as a talented rapper and lyricist, which has earned him the stage nickname Rhymz in Ill-Diversityle.

Devin said Eli has a talent for hearing a song once or twice and remembering all the words. Amy joked that raising a child with a knack for words isn’t always easy.

“Raising a person who is good with words is not easy, because he will take every word you say and twist it around,” Amy said.

Ricky, who works at Ellis Middle School, said singing is his talent, but the family said he has a talent for mixing and putting music together and just a general feel for music. The children described him as the music conductor or producer in the family.

“I like the title executive producer,” Ricky joked.

Ricky has helped Ill-Diversityle with their mixes, and he’ll also help by giving pointers and criticism to their performances.

He danced growing up, and is a fan of old-school hip-hop, Ricky said he tries to keep them grounded in the culture and history of the music.

“If you’re going to be dancing hip-hop, you’ve got to know the culture, where it comes from,” Ricky said.

Along with being a fan of jazz and old school hip-hop, Ricky also joked that he’s “The best dancer in my room.”

 A performing home

Eli Riley, second from the right, was part of the dance foursome Ill-Diversityle that auditioned in North Carolina this past February for the show “America’s Got Talent.” - Herald file photo

The Rileys’ knack for entertainment has spilled over into home life. The family has even held their own performances in the basement. Before El-Diversityle, Phillip and Eli danced in First Responders, and, along with dancing at the high school and Riverland, they’d perform in the basement.

Quinton and Montana have created bands with toy guitars and makeshift drums, so they to just start singing in the house.

Amy has noted they’ll occasionally sing when they have guests over, or they’ll sing when they’re driving on a family trip.

“It kind of filters over into the home thing, too,” she said.

Despite busy schedules, performing has helped keep the family close.

“I think it’s exciting to see that even though we’re in almost everything Austin has to offer and we’re always really busy, we can still be a family because the things we perform at or the things that we do bring us closer as a family,” Montana said.