South Stages ‘Immersive Rock Opera’


Bianca Salazar/San Jacinto Times

Cast members rehearse a scene from ‘United States.’ The show is an original collaboration by the South campus theater program.

As the seats filled in the Black Box Theatre of San Jacinto College South Campus Oct. 13, the energy in the room was building. The cast of the never-before-seen rock opera, “United States,” was getting the audience pumped up by dancing, and playfully interacting with attendees. When the lights fell, the audience became silent, and the performers got into place as the first number began.
According to theater director Kevin Holden, this production was a momentous occasion for the South campus.

“I think it’s a pretty big deal for us, for our program, as a college, and for our community,” he said. “Everything from dialogue to choreography to original scores was built from scratch by our very own SJC theater program. This kind of thing just isn’t done at community colleges, but we are doing it here.”

The “immersive rock opera,” as Holden calls it, follows two people through their lives and through various states of being. John Michael Hoke, Raa’Shane Tansiel, and Ashleigh Painter are cast as the leads. The story takes a look at the common American life and the quest to finding true happiness. The show addresses a number of topics including love, sex, and depression delivering a raw depiction of somber relatable experiences.

According to the program, a source of inspiration was Herman Hesse’s tale of Siddhartha. The show’s contributors took the “concept, modernized it, Americanized, and split it into both a masculine and feminine perspective.”

Principle actor Hoke, who is a San Jac student and experienced thespian, said participating in the show is an “incredible experience.” He admitted to a bit of nervous energy during the dress rehearsals because of the many theater newcomers in the ensemble, but he was “impressed” and “happy” with the final product.

Likewise, Tansiel said he was “super excited” to be a member of the cast, adding he was flattered when Holden asked him to be a part of the production. Tansiel credits Holden with being “really talented” and having a “third eye for art,” and felt honored to be part of the creative process.

Holden said the rehearsal process was a series of experimentations full of “trial and error,” and before opening weekend, it was “quite a gamble to see if we can actually pull it off.” However, all agreed it was a “challenging, yet fun” experience.

Meanwhile, audience members got into the performance by clapping along to the music and despite the mature subject matter, the show ended on a happy note with an upbeat number.

San Jac student Jackie Lastovica was in attendance and raved about the performance. He said he enjoyed it so much this was his second time to watch. Furthermore, he noted, the show was “comparable to professional shows for originality” he has seen before.

Lastovica added, it is “relatable to everyone in this generation in some way, shape or form.”

Performances for “United States” will continue Nov. 19, 20, and 21 at 8:00 p.m. in the Flickinger Fine Arts Center (S.15) on the South campus. Admission is $10 per person at the door. There is no charge for San Jacinto College students.