Experience community theatre that gives back at Kaysville’s hidden gem, the Hopebox TheatreMay 06, 2021 11:04AM ● By Karmel Harper
“Forever Plaid” Wall of Hope recipient Joshua French and his wife, Careshmeh. Photo provided by Hopebox Theatre.
They don’t have a glittering marquee. Their seating capacity is but a fraction of other venues in the area. Their building is set back from the road in a quiet residential area and is easy to miss for a first-time visitor. Yet unlike the glitz and glamour of New York City’s Broadway district or the state-of-the art bling that for-profit community theatres display, the sparkle that emanates from Kaysville’s “Hidden Gem,” the Hopebox Theatre, located on 1700 S. Frontage Road in Kaysville, isn’t merely a sparkle. It is a powerful blaze that warms, uplifts, heals, and gives hope.
Founded in the Fall of 2014 by four-time cancer survivor Jan Williams, the Hopebox Theatre’s mission is “to bring hope to families battling cancer through the performing arts.”
The vision for Hopebox Theatre came to Williams during her third bout with cancer in early 2014 when a group of her theatre students from her performing arts academy, Showstopper Productions, surprised her at her home and serenaded her with Broadway show tunes. The immediate joy and hope she felt in that moment inspired her to create the Hopebox Theatre.
“It’s a foundation that gives back to those who are struggling, dealing with, or are a survivor of cancer or other life-threatening ailments,” Williams said. “This is a place where creativity, vision, and talents combined with love and support can give back to all those who need some new ‘Hope’ in their lives. I want to be able to help those like myself find joy and hope through the performing arts as I have.”
While the foundation would love to help every family in the community struggling with cancer, rather than donating their proceeds to other organizations that assist families on a wider scale, Hopebox partners with individual people and families in the local community who are selected by an extensive community nomination process and ultimately chosen by the organization’s board of directors. Each production at Hopebox is dedicated to a single recipient thus giving a much larger, yet personal purpose for the cast and crew working countless volunteer hours toward their show’s performances. Often, this individual, or Wall of Hope recipient, is a person that the organization, cast, and crew do not know at all other than their story and fight for survival. But because there is an actual name, identity, and real person and family who is benefitting from the production, this bolsters each person’s passion and heartfelt desire to give their time and talents generously.
Samantha Wursten of Layton often performs on stage at Hopebox and will be playing Maria in their upcoming production of “The Sound of Music.”
“I love the Hopebox because they give back in a way that no other community theatre does,” Wursten said. “Their mission really is the priority and they help people get through the hard stuff.”
Unlike typical advertisements for local theatre performances, the marketing of each Hopebox show highlights the Wall of Hope recipient, thereby further connecting the community to the mission. The recipient’s name is even woven into elements of the show whether it is displayed on a prop or mentioned in a line of script.
Darlene Sweeten of Pleasant Grove, who is battling stage 4 invasive carcinoma breast cancer, was the Wall of Hope recipient in February 2021 for Hopebox’s production of “She Loves Me.” Sweeten, blindsided by her nomination and selection, was completely overcome with how much the organization, its cast and crew, embraced her, a total stranger. They already knew her the first time she met them at a rehearsal. Through “D-A-R-L-E-N-E” cheers at every rehearsal and performance, every hug, every call and text to check in on her, Sweeten said, “The biggest and best thing was their friendship and the time they took to get to know me and make me feel special. These new friends truly loved me.”
Last month, Hopebox performed “Forever Plaid,” which benefitted Joshua French, who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia just before Christmas 2020. This show is particularly special for French as it was discovered after he was chosen that he actually performed in “Forever Plaid” as a cast member himself years ago.
In addition to proceeds from ticket sales, like past Wall of Hope recipients, French’s fund received additional donations generously given each performance. Each show and fundraising effort culminates on closing night, a memorable and moving evening that honors the recipient after the final curtain by playing a video clip of their story and presenting them with gifts including the check for funds raised during the show. “Forever Plaid” closed on April 10, and while some recipients can enjoy closing night in person, due to his illness, French joined via Facebook live. The moving ceremony can be viewed on Hopebox Theatre’s Facebook page.
After gifts, tributes, the check, and the silver plaque with French’s name on it which inducts him into the Hopebox Theatre Wall of Hope family, a statement from French and his wife, Careshmeh, was read. The couple said, “We are so grateful for the generosity that we have experienced from people we had no idea were aware of us or our trial. This has felt like a very lonely journey for us that we’re making and the burden has been made lighter because of this amazing kindness. It has renewed our hope in humanity at a very dark time. Thank you.”
While the main foundation is Hopebox Theatre, Williams’ performing arts academy for children and teenagers, Showstoppers Productions, also chooses Wall of Hope recipients for their shows. As the cast and crew for these shows are kids, children battling cancer are the selected Wall of Hope recipients.
Once a Wall of Hope recipient is inducted into the Hopebox family, they are forever connected to the theatre. Some recipients beat their illness and survive. Others do not, sometimes even passing away before the closing night ceremony of the show dedicated to them.
While the money raised for each Wall of Hope recipient is a tremendous help, Chad Knavel, Hopebox’s Director of Marketing and Development, said, “The money is not the biggest deal. To me, it seems insignificant in regards to how much we really do for the cancer patient. The hope we give them, the love they feel from people who are basically strangers, is just powerful and wonderful.” Indeed, the priceless diamond that is the Hopebox Theatre shines brightly with many facets of generosity, kindness, love, and of course, hope.
Hopebox Theatre’s next production of “The Sound of Music” will be performed at the Syracuse Arts Academy Amphitheatre July 9 – July 23. Kaysville residents can enjoy 20% off ticket prices for this production on www.hopeboxtheatre.com by using the discount code “Kaysville.” More information and show schedule can be viewed at www.hopeboxtheatre.com. More information about Showstoppers Productions can be found at https://www.showstoppersproductions.com.