Hope Box Theatre provides a show and funds for cancer patients

Thursday , November 19, 2015 - 2:46 PM

Standard-Examiner Correspondent

KAYSVILLE – Jan Williams is no stranger to cancer. In May 2014, the lover of music and performing was in the midst of her second bout of cancer in 15 years when she had a thought she couldn’t shake. That thought was to create a theater to not only lighten the load of those with the horrible disease, but to help pay their bills.

Williams started a singing and performing group, Showstoppers, several years ago when she lived in San Diego. When she moved to Utah in 2008 she started the group again, but had taken a little rest from it. The group taught youth and some adults about performing, singing and dancing. She had planned to start it up again but was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer on January 1, 2014.

Williams admits she was pretty low that day in May 2014 when a knock came at her door. She had endured about 16 weeks of weekly chemotherapy treatments.

“I don’t do well with chemo,” the bubbly Williams said from the stage of the Hope Box theater in Kaysville. She had battled melanoma in 2000 and was in remission when her second diagnosis came in January. She knew the chemo would be hard for her, but she knew she had much to live for.

“I have six kids. I wanted to see them get married, graduate from high school...I wanted to live,” Williams said. So, that night in May when her sister-in-law told her she may want to put her head-wrap on, she went along. “I looked like a Q-tip. I had no hair, I was bloated, I looked terrible,” she said.

But when she opened the door, magic happened.

Garret Dutcher (Prince DeLong) poses with Jason Steed (Christmas) after the showing of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" at the Hopebox Theater in Kaysville, Nov. 9, 2015. Photo by Rachel Trotter

“There were about 30 of former students and their families standing on my porch and they started singing for me. I was filled with a kind of joy that I can’t describe,” Williams said. It was at that time she knew she needed to bring that feeling to others.

During those sleepless nights she kept a notepad by her bed and took notes of how to make the dream of a community theater come to life. Three weeks after her idea started, she was given the great diagnosis that her scans were clear. She was once again cancer free. “I don’t know how I long I have. No one does, so I have to make the most of it,” Williams said.

She had looked at the location where the Hope Box is, on Frontage Road in Kaysville, a year before when she was going to start her Showstoppers group again. Luckily, the spot was available and she found a willing partner to go into business with her. “He probably wondered what he was getting himself into with me, but he had faith we could do it,” she said.

The theater opened in the fall of 2014, about six months after her first clean scan. Things got started first with her teen Showstoppers program and then her first community musical, “9 to 5,“ the following spring.

The idea of Hope Box is for each show, a committee takes applications from cancer patients in the community and picks someone it thinks would be the most deserving at the time, dedicating its show to that person. That person’s story is broadcast in the program and on a television screen during intermission, as well as before and after the show.

At each performance a large Hope Box is passed around to take donations. Some of the proceeds from the performance also go toward the family. For the last show, the family is invited to the show for free, along with all the concessions they wish to eat, and a special gift from the cast is given to the family along with the donations over the show’s run. Their name is also placed on the “Hope Wall” in the theater.

“I really just want to give them a night out on us, but it has become more,” Williams said.

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” will end its run this Saturday night and its show recipient will receive his donations and see the show just for him.

Many of the cast members love doing shows at the Hope Box just because of Williams’ plans. “The heart of this theater is something special. It’s such a good cause,” said actress Kristina Boler. “It’s so emotional to be a part of something like this,” said actor Sam Lilly.

Williams has been encouraged by the community support, but knows she needs more to be able to stay afloat. She is working on getting non-profit status as well. “The more people we get out, the better our shows will be. I know that. We are not going anywhere. We really want this to work,” Williams said.

More information about the theater and how to donate can be found at its website.

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