They are free shows, produced for, directed by and ofter enacted by the audience of one: yourself.

"We are the authors of our dreams," said Eric Fromme, "playwrights drawing upon a vast store of materials crated from our emotions, cultural values, perceptions, biology, chemistry and inherited physical structure."

Why do we dream?

"The purpose of the dream," says Dr. Stanley Palombo, author of "Dreaming and Memory" and a Chevy Chase psychoanalyst, "is to find a place in the memory to store the new experience, where it is connected with previous experiences that seem to have the same significance."

Another area psychiatrist describes the dream as an attempt by the brain ". . . to bring into balance certain unresolved conflicts between the outer world of work and family life with that of the inner world of the dreamer that seeks harmony between the two."

Ann Faraday, dream psychologist and author, sees the dream as a depiction of the "thoughts of the heart," at odds with the "thoughts of the head."

After relating in her book, "The Dream Game," one of her own dreams -- in which she murdered her very conservative first husband with a carpet sweeper -- she says, "A dream will give a dramatized picture not only of a hidden feeling about ourselves or others in our life, but also of the reason for that feeling."

The theory that by interpreting dream symbols the secrets of the unconscious could be unlocked was first put forward and developed by Sigmund Freud in the 19th century. Freud said that due to a type of "built-in" censor in the human unconscious, unacceptable ideas and wishes were disguised in dreams to avoid detection by the conscious.

These disguises, however, are sometimes rather thin, as in the case of the young woman who dreams that her boss has metamorphosed into a lizard. Having little affection for reptiles she takes up an ax and slices it in two, whereupon she discovers that for insides the lizard has nothing: no heart, no "guts", in effect, no character.

Freud's identification of "day residues" was another notable discovery in the psychoanalytic approach to dreams. These fragments of the previous day's activities and ideas were thought by him to serve mainly as vehicles for more substantive messages from the unconscious.

Faraday explains day residues as ". . . a replay of one's day in depth, throwing up all the things that the waking connsciousness was too slow or too preoccupied to catch."

"Never dismiss a dream," she advises, "as too trivial to record."

An example of the incorporation of day residue is given by Thomas French and Erika Fromme in their book on dream interpretation:

A man, disturbed by serious family problems, reported having a dream about mixing cement. (The previous day he had noticed that many bricks of his house were pulling away from the foundation. He noted that the house needed tuck pointing and decided to hire someone to do it.)

In making associations with the flaws in the structure of his house and the patching needed, he was surprised to find the parallel between his marriage, its flaws and the patching needed to make it firm and long lasting.

Freud's approach to dream interpretation hinged largely on what he saw to be repressed infantile sexual desires.

In contemporary analysis, many non-secual-appearing dreams turn out to have sexual meanings rooted in false impressions of childhood or adolescence.

"Sexual hang-ups don't come from the outside world so much," says Palombo. "They come from the fact that the child doesn't have the mental equipment for dealing with sexual processes. He invents fantasies that don't really fit and carries them through the rest of his life."

To Carl Gustave Jung (who disagreed with Freud's emphasis on sexuality), dreams were a forum for the voices of the collective unconscious, a body of universal, inherited and cumullative experience from previous generations. Some, he maintained, went back as far as the origin of the species.

Alfred Adler (like Jung, both a contemporary and critic of Freud) saw the dream more as a manifestation of the drive for power, and the frustrations of that drive. He saw the individual striving in his dream to compensate for feelings of inferiority.

"A dream that is not understood is like a letter that is not opened." -- Early Talmudic Rabbis

In attempting to understand our dreams we are warned by psychoanalysts not to look at symbols as absolutes.

There are, says Palombo, no universal symbols except those which ". . .are simply signposts pointing towards a direction, and the meaning is purely a personal one. Because we are all human. . . there are certain experiences we share."

A house can symbolize security, warmth and "belonging" to one person. To another it represents the loss of freedom, duty to one's family, sheer drudgery.

Ann Faraday's advice to those who would interpret their own dreams is to first take the dream message to face value: "A dream can give literal information about things and people in our external world. . ."

She gives the example of a neighbor's dream of his son falling from a ladder. Following Faraday's advice, the man inspected the real ladder and found several dangerously loose rungs. Dreams, says Faraday, make us aware of information subliminally perceived, ". . . but ignored by the waking brain." o

If, however, a dream does not have any literal significance, Faraday urges dreamers to keep a dream diary to sort out less obvious meanings.

The objects which commonly appear in dreams are the ordinary items of daily life: houses, cars, buses, airplanes, doors, windows, furniture, clothing.

The Freudian tendency to look at many -- if not most -- objects as sexual symbols has been criticized by, among others, Dr. Calvin S. Hall, director of the Institute of Dream Research in Miami and author of "The Meaning of Dreams."

Hall cites 102 symbols for the penis, 95 for the vagina and 55 for sexual intercourse attributed to Freud and his followers.

To Hall, dreams often deal more with themes of aggression, competition for love in the family, freedom versus security, moral conflicts (which he claims bother men more than women), sex-role conflicts, "eternal-triangle" concerns and thoughts on life and death.

Unpleasant dreams probably account for the majority of remembered dreams. Common in this category is the "arriving-too-late" dream. In this scenario the protaganist is frustrated in every way toward achieving his goal, such as arriving on time for an airline flight, or meeting a deadline at work, or a variation of either theme.

Ann Faraday calls these, along with "examination" dreams, the "secret saboteurs." The "topdog," characterized as the superficial self, sends demanding messages to hamper or delay the work of the "underdog," which represents our deepest feelings. The psyche is caught in a sort of crossfire, or "mixed emotions."

One example of this is a young mother's dream of the misplaced baby:

"I dreamed the baby was crying. I had put him away, but I couldn't remember where. I ran around the house frantically pulling open all the drawers, feeling simply miserable and quilty. As I searched I became more hysterical, finally waking up terrified and out of breath."

Palombo speculates that the feelings of amibivalence, fear of failing as a parent, and a heavily disguised desire to "get rid of the problem" are all at play.

The images in dreams, clipped and woven together with thoughts and questions, bob up like bubbles from what Ann Faraday calls "the ocean of the subconscious."

Hall prefers to liken dreams to X-rays which probe the "deeper recesses of man's mind."

For the dream investigator, opportnities abound. And the work, though intensive, does not involve so much as lifting the head from the pillow.

On with the show.