The whir of fans did little to drown out the constant murmur in the lobby as aspiring actors waited for their opportunity to audition for one of five film roles on Saturday afternoon.
The noise was an absolute contradiction to the silence inside the auditorium of Roberto Gomez Jr. Performing Arts Center at PSJA Memorial Early College High School. A voice echoed off the walls of the auditorium as Torben Bech sat beside a camera aimed at the stage, where a young boy pretended to play catch with a roll of tape.
The auditions are part of writer and director Bech’s upcoming film, “The Promise,” which is set along the border in South Texas.
“The Promise” is the working title for Bech’s project, which he describes as a “neo western.” The film is about a child who becomes critically ill, and his father who resorts to desperate measures to save his son.
The idea for the film came to Bech when he was confronted with a similar situation involving his own family.
“This story came about some years ago because my eldest son got sick, and it was a very tough situation,” explained Bech. “We didn’t know what was wrong. We went in and out of the hospital, and we just went through a very tough path. That led me to this story. What if this had happened, and I couldn’t get the help that I needed. And also the realization that you’ll do everything for your family.
“You’ll do everything for your son.”
Bech explained that actor Michael Ray Escamilla, who is a native to the Valley and has been cast in the role of Jim for the film, helped point him toward the RGV.
“We came out here to research. We researched in a lot of places. When we came here, we just got so much help in terms of the research,” Bech said. “We met people from various kinds of groups, people that benefited the script, that I could put into the script. We just got a lot of help from day one. That’s how we decided to come back here.”
The open auditions were for the roles of Bee, a 28- to 35-year-old woman who is Jim’s high school sweetheart, Bee’s mother, who is described as being in her late 60s; Dean, described as being 62-years-old and the love interest to Bee’s mother; Michael, a 10- to 12-year-old boy; and Jim’s mom, described as a 70-year-old woman who is fragile and has trouble walking.
“Right now we’re looking for the right flavor, in terms of what’s the right cast,” Bech explained. “We also want it to feel real for this area, so we’re trying to fill in the rolls that we can from here.”
Looking to bring some flavor to the part of Bee is 33-year-old Maida Lee Saenz of Palmview, who has been acting for about four years in theatre and commercials.
“Like every audition, it’s really scary,” Saenz explained following her audition. “My heart is in my throat, but if it happens, it happens. If not, then it was another practice for me.”
Also auditioning for the role of Bee was West Texas native 32-year-old Laya Gonzalez, who is a theatre teacher at Austin Middle School in San Juan.
“This is me putting my toe back in (acting) again,” Gonzalez, who has been involved in acting for most of her life, said. “When I saw the part for Bee, I read it and said, ‘that’s me.’ I might as well just give it a try, and here I am.”
Filming for “The Promise” is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5.