Actor and 2003 Topeka West High School graduate Antwayn Hopper took time out of his busy schedule to visit the students at his alma mater today. Hopper, who has appeared in “Hair” on Broadway and currently has a recurring role on Cinemax’s “The Knick,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, has been in nearby Overland Park this summer performing in “Smokey Joe’s Café.” His calendar has been full of performances since he got his “big break” in the Whoopi Goldberg-produced play “White Noise.”
(Photo credit: newtheater.com)
However, as Antwayn explained to the eager students in his audience, he was not always in such high demand; it took a lot of hard work. After years of dedication to theater, and with the support of his parents and his drama teachers at TWHS, he auditioned against 2,000 other young hopefuls for one of just ten spots at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wowed the judges with his ability and potential, earning a full scholarship to study musical theater.
Just one day after graduating from college in 2007, he moved- with a mere $350- to New York City. His degree from the elite Carnegie Mellon helped him obtain an agent and manager, but securing acting jobs was still up to him. Like many young people trying to “make it” in showbiz, Antwayn got a day job waiting tables at Bubba Gump’s in Times Square. He worked hard and kept dreaming of the day when he’d see his name in lights on Broadway. His talent, experience and education meant that he wouldn’t have to wait long, though; he was soon cast in the play, “White Noise.” From there, his career took off and he is now a regular on “The Knick,” (Cinemax, Fridays at 8:00 pm, CST).
Despite his success, or perhaps because of it, Antwayn took several hours out of his day to visit the Topeka West Players and the students in the school’s Concert Choir class. Unable to hide his passion for theater, he told the kids how he achieved his dream. “Take pride in what you do and take advantage of these four years. Be involved in everything you can,” he said. He also expressed to them how lucky they are to attend a school that values and supports the arts. “You come from a rich pedigree here at Topeka West. I thank God for this school---it did so much for me, especially Concert Choir, TW Players and TW Singers…. I’m very proud to be from this school!” Antwayn also encouraged the students to reach their own dreams, even if it means taking chances. “Don’t get stuck. Know you can go beyond Kansas if that’s what you want to do,” he said.
Students weren’t the only ones hanging on his every word; his parents- clearly his biggest fans- were also in attendance. His mother, Lillian Hopper, beamed with pride as he spoke. Later she reflected on raising a talented kid with big dreams. “As he grew up, he was just bound and determined to do it. He kept God first and he stood up for what he believed in. We always told him, if he ever falls down, get back up, wipe yourself off and try again.” She also credited the TWHS staff with helping him nurture his dreams and hone his skills. “The administrators and teachers at the time, they never gave up on him and therefore, he believed in himself. He proved that no matter where you are or who you are, your dreams are reachable and they can come true.”
Antwayn, while achieving success few actors ever experience, was humble, gracious and personable. The passion he feels for his craft and the messages he had for the students was inspiring to everyone who was fortunate enough to hear him speak. Thank you, Antwayn, for sharing your time with our students and for being a wonderful ambassador of Topeka Public Schools!