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Antwayn Hopper Celebrates James Baldwin in New Musical ‘A Strange Loop’

On August 2, it would have been writer and activist James Baldwin’s 98th birthday, and 35 years after his death his life and work are still being explored and celebrated in modern works that go beyond literature. Most recently Baldwin is honored through theater in Michael R. Jackson’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical A Strange Loop.

The musical follows a young Black queer playwright who is trying to write a musical about a Black queer writer. During the show, Baldwin, played by Antwayn Hopper, manifests as a physical thought from the subconscious mind of the musical’s protagonist.

Hopper, who is a Topeka, Kansas native and alumni of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, began his journey with the production in its early stages during the show’s off-Broadway run. He spoke about stepping into Baldwin’s essence stating, “I get to play James Baldwin as Antwayn Hopper as Thought 6.”

Hopper further tapped into the spirit of Baldwin by honoring his style, which was an essential part of his image. “Can we talk about the fashion? I don't know if y'all get to see how clean James is and the three triple breasted suit that have flared pants and they’re floral, the outfit is floral, get into it with a beautiful silk necktie, and the glorious cigarette that is the prop that we chose for James Baldwin. It's pretty amazing to be able to step in those shoes, those legendary shoes and every time I get to say ‘Jimmy Baldwin’, I think it's beautiful because Michael R. Jackson is our modern-day Jimmy Baldwin, so to speak," Hopper added.

Like Baldwin, whose works include Another Country, Giovanni’s Room, Sonny’s Blue, Go Tell It To the Mountaintop and Notes of a Native Son, explore themes of racism, sexuality discrimination, classism, religion and family, Jackson’s A Strange Loop explores those themes that Baldwin was examining decades ago. “I love James Baldwin because it's a goddamn shame that his words are still impactful today. His illustrations of our community as Black folk in New York City are still vibrant and ring true. And for me, it's therapeutic because rather than screaming at the top of my lungs, going, this is unfair I get to listen to someone who lived it and came out okay. They used their life as art and it impacted a generation and that's what I'm about," Hopper expressed.

Although Baldwin isn’t here today to see his image and ideas embodied in works such as A Strange Loop, Hopper feels Baldwin would be proud of the work. “I really think he would love A Strange Loop because A Strange Loop does what he did, and that is tell the truth, tell your story, put it down on paper, do something about it, don't just be inactive, be active and if you don't like it, say something. Michael's done that. And it makes me proud because I call myself an actorvist now that I've been a part of a show. It's a strange loop. And that is something that I know James Baldwin would be very proud of. We brought dramaturgy into the room, and we really spent time trying to figure out this story. Michael even allowed us to provide input on this story that's so personal.”

Photo Credit: Marc J. Franklin

Broadway theater has been making efforts to attract diverse Black audiences with productions such as A Strange Loop. Speaking on bringing a young Black audience to the theater to experience the impact of live theater, Hopper stated, “I really hope that the people of color, primarily Black Americans, especially our youth, meaning like in the 20 era, that realm, I hope y'all can come out and just get a little taste of what storytelling can do. And what good storytelling can do and get a little piece of the craft, educate yourself, expand yourself come to Broadway, it's for everybody, and they’re making that known with this Black queer show. I think James Baldwin would be very impressed.”

Ultimately, Antwayn stated Baldwin would simply say about the work, “Bravo, my heart is filled.”


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