A degree of moral content

Actor Samuel L. Cooper and actress Lisa Keller appear in the one-act play "Ferris Wheel" about two strangers who meet on a Ferris wheel and are forced to face their insecurities and fears when they get stuck at the top. The play is part of the 4th Annual Malibu International Festival of One-Act Plays, which opens Nov. 11 at the Malibu Stage Co. Photo by Joan Almond

Fourth year of SABEL one-act plays continue theme of morality, and the acknowledgement that there is something bigger or beyond …

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

One thing that most everyone seeks is better entertainment. That can mean different things to different people, of course, but one local group is doing something about it; even to the extent of putting their motto in the title of the organization. The next two weekends Saint Aidan’s Better Entertainment League (SABEL) will present Malibu’s 4th International Festival of One Act Plays.

The organization was founded by filmmaker and Malibu resident Paul Almond who had a vision of starting a one-act play festival with a degree of moral content. Almond, a native of Montreal who has an impressive film and television background (he was named Officer of The Order of Canada in 2002-the country’s highest honor for lifetime achievement), approached fellow directors and Malibu residents Michael Preece and Gy Waldron about directing some of the shows, and the concept of a film festival was born.

The first year of the festival there were about 50 entries and the numbers have continued to grow. Last year, there were more than 220 submissions from a number of countries around the world, hence the title “International Film Festival.”

“I was at a birthday party for Larry Hagman,” Preece said. “Paul Almond came up to me and said, ‘We are starting a play festival in Malibu, would you like to do it?’ I told him I had only done television and film and within a couple of days, suddenly I was a play director.”

Preece, who directed more than 80 episodes of the television series “Dallas” and has a 50-year career as an award-winning director to his credit, has been involved with the festival ever since as a director and most recently assumed the role of producer.

The process of coordinating the festival starts early in the year as a committee reads the hundreds of entries that are submitted for consideration. Another group narrows the final selections and an average of about 10 plays is produced annually.

“The logistics of the festival looks like the Normandy invasion,” said writer/director Gy Waldron. “I think we are the only festival in the country that operates this way. It’s all volunteer. The actors, writers and directors all give their time.”

Waldron also said this festival is unlike others in that each play in the festival has a different director and a different cast. In other, similar festivals he noted that the same cast members and director are involved in all the performances.

Waldron also pointed out that this festival is lucky to have an incredible pool of talented directors, writers and producers. Although Malibu is not typically celebrated as a destination to see live plays, the festival is attracting top name talent in all areas. Waldron has written and directed for the stage, television, documentaries and movies of the week, and has also created several television series including “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Waldron said the committee considers all types of one-act plays and different genres each year. The only requirement is that the piece has a moral theme. He noted that the characters in the story must recognize that there is something bigger or beyond than themselves, which is a fairly broad parameter.

“Malibu is not really a theatre town and everybody has been remarkably responsive,” Waldron said of community reaction. “It doesn’t matter what your religion [is], they all love it. It’s been a very well-rounded thing … In the hands of good actors and directors you learn something new every time.”

Though the requirements might add a serious tone to each piece, “most of the plays this year have a laugh in them,” Preece said. “We have a couple of dramatic pieces, but this year they are a little bit lighter. All of them are spiritual, but there are a couple that are downright very funny.”

In addition to being an excellent way to see great local theatre, SABEL is also a good cause. The nonprofit organization divides the proceeds among the various religious organizations in Malibu including Saint Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Our Lady of Malibu, Malibu Presbyterian, Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, Malibu United Methodist and First Church of Christ, Scientist.

“The great advantage for the audience is, if you get bored with one piece just hang on because another one is coming right along,” Waldron said. “Everyone is wonderful. This has been a tremendous experience.”

This year’s festival will be presented in two parts. The festival will run six plays Nov. 11-18, and a different set of plays Nov. 18-21. Thursday through Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and there are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3:30 p.m. Tickets for the festival are $20 for adults and $15 for children and seniors Reservations can be made by visiting the Web site at www.sabel.us or by calling 310.589.9151. All performances will be at the Malibu Stage Co., 29243 Pacific Coast Highway.