Actors step into the ‘Ring of Fire’

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The Ring of Fire 2019 ensemble cast Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Back row, left to right: Joel Freeman, Leanne Challa, Cole Hansen, Bruce Tinker Front row, left to right: Brett Schaafsma, Bud Thompson, Bill Reynolds. Photo by David Sparks

This month, eight actors are taking on an icon in “Ring of Fire.”  These actors will each portray Johnny Cash during the performance, which spans Cash’s life and songbook. “Ring of Fire” debuted on Broadway in 2006 and ran for 57 performances. Grand Rapids Magazine talked to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre cast to find out what drew them to their roles and what Johnny Cash means to them.

Q: How were you first introduced to Johnny Cash’s music and what does
he mean to you?

“When I was young, I remember riding in the car with my dad as he sang along to Johnny Cash with ‘The Highwayman.’ Later, as I learned of the broad influence Cash had on other musicians and across music genres in a college music history class, I gained a deeper appreciation for him and his story.” Leanne Challa

“My family has always been very musical, and my grandma was an avid guitar player, playing songs like ‘I’ve Been Everywhere.’ When I started playing guitar, Johnny Cash’s music was among the first I learned. Not only does his music speak to me as a person but also reminds me that the ‘circle won’t be broken.’” Joel Freeman

Q: What influenced your decision to audition for “Ring of Fire?”

“I’m a singer/songwriter and am finishing my first solo album, which I’m really excited about. While the album is being finished, I wanted something else to focus on that allows me to branch out creatively and use my voice in a different way. When I saw that the Civic was holding auditions for ‘Ring of Fire,’ I thought it seemed like the perfect fit at just the right time. I sing quite a few classic country songs during cover gigs, and my voice is well-suited for this style of music, so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.” Cole Hansen

“I write country songs, and I grew up with Johnny Cash, and his style and influence are evident in what I write. As a baritone/bass, there are not many productions that feature my vocal part as well as ‘Ring of Fire’ does, so when I saw this show on the schedule for
2019-20, I felt that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.” Brett Schaafsma

Q: What are you looking forward to most about this show?

“This one is for my dad. He’s a real countryman who wears Wrangler jeans and snap-front Western shirts every day and makes up his own lyrics to old country songs. To know that he’s going to get to experience this show and see me on stage in it is what gives me all the feels. I know that he is really proud of the woman I’ve become and where my life has led me. But there’s going to be something pretty cathartic in this experience … that for a few hours every night, I’ll reunite with that 16-year-old version of myself who worked her way onto a stage at the Opryland Hotel to sing a classic country song in front of a curious audience. The fact that my dad will get to see that part of me again in ‘Ring of Fire’ … well, I can’t imagine anything better than that.” Noddea Skidmore

Q: With this production, there isn’t one Johnny Cash, how does that influence your acting decisions and how you play your specific part in the production?

“As an ensemble actor, you have to bring to any scene what that scene needs from you, given your part in that piece of the story. That could change every five minutes. You just have to be who you need to be at the moment to make the scene work. Everybody does whatever their part is at the moment. Theater is a team sport.” G.M. (Bud) Thompson

“As an ensemble, we will be doing the storytelling, not as a single specific character but multiple characters using the music of Johnny Cash. Relating to different stories about the trials and triumphs of life.” Bill Reynolds

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