STUDIO THEATER -- "We're actually in the black, which is pretty incredible," says Studio Theater founder/artistic director Joy Zinoman. "So because we don't have to scramble, we're real interested in artistry this year."

That doesn't mean Studio is in a position to be reckless. But its eighth season indicates the theater is taking some chances. And Studio's new contract with the Actors Equity Association calls for a certain number of Equity (professional) performers for each show. That means access to a deeper talent pool and a better shot at important new material.

"We tend not to have an overall plan," Zinoman says of plotting a season. "Then when it's all over, we step back and see what happened. Last year was all about sex as it turned out, but it wasn't planned that way. This year seems really eclectic."

The relative success and security have also enabled Studio to redesign and expand its stage without losing any of its 110 seats. The Studio is at 1401 Church Street NW. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets are $11.50 to $13.50 Special rates available for seniors and students. Call 265-7412.

PLAYING FOR TIME -- new stage adaptation of Arthur Miller's television screenplay about a women's orchestra in a Nazi concentration camp. (See review page 11.) Now through October 20.

A WALK OUT OF WATER -- which Zinoman describes as an "Oregon porch poignant" play, is written and directed by Donald Driver. November 13 to December 15.

LANDSCAPE OF THE BODY -- by John Guare, will be directed by Arena's James Nicola, who is updating it from the Kennedy era into a Madonna-like rock setting. January 8 to February 9.

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY -- Harold Pinter's absurdist comedy will be directed by Zinoman. March 12 to April 13.

A SURPRISE -- is what Studio is currently calling its final play. Zinoman says to expect a contentious and controversial comedy. May 14 to June 15.

FOLGER THEATER

The Folger Theater almost didn't have a 16th season. But saved from oblivion after a cliffhanger crisis last season, it survives as one of the country's most respected classical theaters -- and a hometown treasure.

Artistic director John Neville-Andrews, in rehearsal for his role as Iago in the season-opening "Othello," says this "will be a season of conscious change and surprise, fueled by an essential need to reinvestigate our plays and their presentation . . . , thereby challenging our audiences to reevaluate their thinking about the plays -- and their lives." The company has two years to become financially independent of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Neville-Andrews has probably taken that into consideration when planning this season of five familiar plays.

Though the Folger may need to play it safe for awhile, they can be counted on to provide some surprises as well as tradition -- remember last season's Art Deco ocean liner "Much Ado About Nothing," and the splashy "King Lear.'" And they've added three new members to the permanent acting company -- Michael Kramer, Kryztov Lindquist and Sybil Lines.

The 253-seat Folger is at 201 East Capitol Street SE (near the Capitol South Metro). Tickets are $18 to $27.50; performances are Tuesday through Sunday, 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on varying days. Call 546-4000.

OTHELLO -- directed by company member Mikal Lambert. This is the Folger's first "Othello," and the cast features Elmore James (son of blues great Elmore James), who played Jim in the Tony-winning musical "Big River." October 1 to November 24.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR -- December 3 to January 26.

THE CHERRY ORCHARD -- by Anton Chekhov. February 18 to March 30.

THE MISER -- by Moliere. April 8 to May 18.

TWELFTH NIGHT -- May 27 to July 20.

FORD'S THEATER

The biggest hit of Ford's Theater's new season won't arrive till after the first three shows have hit the stage. New artistic director David Bell broke the good news -- Ford's is finally getting new seats! "They're wonderful," Bell says. "They're still historically correct wooden chairs, but with built-in pads, so you can sit and watch a show and not die."

Looks like good news onstage, too. Bell says he is making a commitment to developing new musicals, and that might get Ford's out of its roadshow rut. Bell has lined up three shows -- two musical, one not -- and is currently looking at some pre- Broadway musicals that want to start at Ford's. Bell has also given the annual "A Christmas Carol" musical "a much needed rest," and is planning an all-new adaptation for next year.

The 741-seat Ford's is at 511 10th Street NW. Tickets are $16-$20, and performances are Tuesday through Sunday, 7:30 p.m., with matinees Thursday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Call 347-4833.

HANDY DANDY -- by William Gibson (see review page 11). Now through October 13.

BARBARA COOK: A BROADWAY EVENING -- one of the country's premier vocalists and a Washington club favorite, has chosen, with musical director Wally Harper, an all-new act of cabaret and musical theater material. October 15 to 27.

LITTLE ME -- Neil Simon's first musical is being revived by Bell, who won a bunch of awards for his production in Chicago last year. November 1 to December 15. Ford's goes dark for three weeks after "Little Me" to allow installation of the new seats, and will reopen in January with a show to be announced.

NEW PLAYWRIGHTS THEATER

"We're still getting our ducks in order," says Arthur Bartow, artistic director of New Playwrights Theater.

"We've got people writing new plays for us, but we won't see them on the stage till next year," he adds, mentioning financial constraints as the prime holdup. According to its charter, NPT is "the only theater in Washington devoted exclusively to producing new plays by developing playwrights."

"Things that other theaters take for granted, we can't," Bartow says. But things are looking up. Besides having one of the most attractive houses in town -- a converted school gymnasium in the Dupont Circle neighborhood -- NPT has a new president, Dan Kiernan, and is just $25,000 short of its fundraising goal of $250,000 (the campaign ends Monday)

In the meantime, Bartow says NPT will open its 14th season with what's most ready -- a new play by local writer Phoef Sutton. Then the American National Theater is planning to use NPT as a "satellite stage." After that, Bartow is considering "Secret Honor," a fantasy about Richard Nixon, and "The Team," by Terrence Feely, about the life and death of British playwright Joe Orton. Also planned is a new collaborative work by Elizabeth Swados ("The Beautiful Lady") and Ulysses Dalt of the Alvin Ailey Company.

The 125-seat New Playwrights is at 1742 Church Street NW. Tickets are $13 to $15; performances Tuesday through Sunday, 8 p.m. Call 232-1122.

The schedule:

THIN WALL -- the second play by Phoef Sutton, who opened NPT's last season with "Burial Customs." This one, directed by Arthur Bartow, is a comedy about how violence in America is sensationalized and deplored in the same breath. October 11 to November 3.

AMERICAN NATIONAL THEATER -- presents the Wooster Group and Joseph Chaikin-directed "Solo Voyages." ANT Director Peter Sellars delightedly describes the Wooster Group's work as "planned atrocity." November and December.

ROUND HOUSE THEATER

"It's something of a departure," says Round House Theater spokesman Geri Olson, describing the new season. "There's more of a contemporary feel than our usual approach, which has been the classics, the comedies, the mysteries."

Olson says new artistic director Jerry Whiddon's emphasis on new work has caused some concern among longtime subscribers. "We're trying to reach out and find a younger audience. But we certainly don't want to alienate any of our subscribers. We think they'll like it."

The 216-seat Round House is at 12210 Bushey Drive, Silver Spring. Tickets are $11 and $13. All performances are Wednesday to Sunday at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call 468-4234.

FOOL FOR LOVE -- Sam Shepard's drama about the love-hate collision between a man and a woman in a seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert. October 4 to November 3.

THE MAN WHO KILLED THE BUDDHA -- Martin Epstein's comedy about a conniving priest who hoodwinks a gullible novice. November 22 to December 22.

SALLY AND MARSHA -- A comedy by Sybille Pearson, about a friendship between the title characters, who have opposing personalities. January 10 to February 9.

THE FIREBUGS -- Two people literally go to hell in this "devilish comedy" by Max Frisch. February 28 to March 30.

THE TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA -- marks the first time in five years Round House has tackled Shakespeare. May 2 to June 1.

CASTLE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER

"In 25 words or less?" asks Antoni Sadlak-Jaworski. "Okay, our intention is to bring professional theater of a high quality to Hyattsville."

Sadlak-Jaworski is the artistic director of the Washington area's newest theater company, at the Castle Performing Arts Center -- you may remember it as the commanding old Hyattsville Armory.

"Our first season is really a sampler of styles," says Sadlak- Jaworski, who has directed at Woolly Mammoth and elsewhere. "We need to determine what and who our audience is."

The 290-seat Castle is at 5340 Baltimore Avenue, Hyattsville. Performances are Thursday through Sunday, 8 p.m.; tickets are $10 and $12. Call 277-6121.

LIGHT UP THE SKY -- this revival of the Moss Hart musical is set in Washington's Willard Hotel in 1948, where the chaos surrounding the out-of town opening of a Broadway show occurs, now through October 19.

HUCKLEBERRY FINN -- is a new American Opera by Martin Mangold. Opening December 7.

YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN -- Adults like Clark Gesner's children's musical, too, and it's just in time for Christmas. Opening December 12.

DARK OF THE MOON -- by Howard Richardson and William Berney, tentatively opening January 25.

THE MISANTHROPE -- Moliere's sharp satire gets the high-tech treatment. Opening March 22.

THE CLOWNS -- Sadlak-Jaworski discovered this political satire while visiting Poland this summer, and did the translation of Andrej Strzelecki's play. Opening May 11.

HORIZONS THEATER

"We've always wanted people to feel that they couldn't categorize us, any more than they could categorize any woman," says Horizons Theater founder and artistic director Leslie Jacobson (who was just voted president of the League of Washington Theaters).

Formerly Pro Femina Theater, Horizons was formed to present a wide range of plays by and about women, with a special flair for the controversial and offbeat. (The plays also involve men, of course, since they certainly affect women's lives.) Because of the success of the past season, Horizons has been able to expand its permanent company -- and its audience has grown substantially, too. Perhaps to further solidify its hold on that new audience, Horizons' plays for its ninth season are less schematically feminist.

"We don't really have a stance; we try to present women's experiences in all their diversity," Jacobson says.

Next year, the company will join the growing ranks of theaters looking for new homes, but for now, home is the Grace Episcopal Church, which the company ingeniously manipulates differently with each show. Its season opener, "Miss Lulu Bett," will be played in the round, a first for Horizons.

Jacobson says Horizons has been asked by the National Archives to prepare a theatrical work for it based on the federal Women's Bureau, an information/advocacy program that had its heyday in the late 1800s. The play may be presented in early 1986. The theater also has the best intermission brownies of any theater in the area (is that sexist?).

Horizons, at the Grace Episcopal Church (1041 Wisconsin Avenue NW), seats approximately 100. Tickets are $10 Thursdays and Sundays; $12 Fridays and Saturdays. Call 342-7706.

MISS LULU BETT -- won the 1920 Pulitzer Prize for playwright Zona Gale. It's about a neglected spinster who runs off with her brother-in-law's brother. Horizons has come up with a novel twist -- Gale wrote two endings, conventional and "modern," to be played on alternate nights. October 18 to November 14.

IT HAD TO BE YOU -- A comedy by Joseph Bologna and Erica Ritter. A would- be actress/writer holds a producer hostage (shades of "King of Comedy"). January 10 to February 16.

AMERICAN BEEF -- by Elizabeth Dick, has its world premiere at Horizons. Three generations of a Southwestern family examine their values when faced with the government's offer to buy their family ranch for $5 million. April 11 to May 8.

NEW VOICES '86 -- Horizons' annual showcase of new one-act plays by women, scheduled for June.

SOURCE THEATER

Spunky, scrappy Source Theater traditionally has the busiest stages in town.

Too busy, grouch some grouches. But from among the troupe's widely varied lot -- which includes the classics to the most avant of the avant-garde -- several gems usually emerge.

Source, which last season formed a 16-member resident company, has provided a start for hundreds of actors, directors and technicians, and many Source-trained actors are appearing in plays all around the town.

But times are tough at the Source. "We're in a definite state of transition," says founder/director Bart Whiteman, who has been called a "low-rent Joe Papp," and just received an award for excellence in service to the arts at the fourth Mayor's Arts Awards.

"Things are not great financially," Whiteman says with an embattled sigh, pointing to the theater's schedule, which includes markedly fewer new plays than is usual for the adventurous organization. "New plays are always difficult to market," says Whiteman, who places much of the blame on the critical drubbings received by several of last year's attempts.

Ongoing financial woes last season cost Source one of its three stages, the tiny Resource. But the Main Stage and the larger Warehouse Rep up the block remain a lively "source" of entertainment downtown.

All Source performances are Wednesday through Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $13. Call 462-1073.

Coming up at the 68-seat Main Stage (1835 14th Street NW):

EXTREMITIES -- the Washington premiere of the controversial play by William Mastrosimone, about a rapist captured and threatened by his victim. Stars Helen Hayes Award winner Steven Dawn and Barbara Klein (opens Friday, through November 2).

HEARTBREAK HOUSE -- George Bernard Shaw's comedy about a modern Armageddon (November 8 to December 7).

THEATER GROTESKO -- a Parisian avant-garde group visits with "mime and clownish antics." Opens November 15 at the French Embassy's new theater, then moves to the Main Stage.

EDUCATING RITA -- a British twist on "Pygmalion" by Willie Russell (opening January 18).

THE COUNTRY WIFE -- a Restoration comedy of manners by William Wycherly, featuring characters called Miss Pinchwife, Jack Horner and Lady Fidget. Need we say more? (February 14).

A WASHINGTON THEATER FESTIVAL -- Source's sixth annual showcase for new plays, in July.

Productions at the 108-seat Warehouse Rep (1809 14th Street NW):

WAITING FOR GODOT -- Samuel Beckett's existential masterpiece, with an all- female cast at the Warehouse Rep (through October 5).

BEYOND THE HORIZON -- Eugene O'Neill's first hit about competition between two seafaring brothers (October 11 to November 9).

AMADEUS -- Bart Whiteman is playing Salieri in the environmental (the audience moves through the set) version of Peter Shaffer's hit now at the Silver Spring Stage. Source hopes to move the show to the Warehouse in November.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST -- Dale Wasserman's dramatization of Ken Kesey's antiauthoritian novel about mischief and defiance in a mental institution (opening January 10).

GRANDMA DUCK IS DEAD -- a comedy by Larry Shue, author of "The Foreigner," produced by the So Far Theater Company (February 19 to November 16).

MACBETH -- Shakespeare's tragedy (opening March 22).

THE INFORMER -- a new adaptation of the novel by Liam O'Flaherty (opening May 2).

A FEISTY FIVE-PACK

Existence has always been precarious for this city's small, brave theaters. This year, the bane of the theaters is a shortage of theater space -- it seems to be a game of musical chairs, with companies keeping a wary eye out for the precious and rare vacant and usable space. A group organized by the League of Washington Theaters and Mayor Barry's arts committee is currently searching for available locations. But meanwhile, the shortage has resulted in postponed openings for several established theaters.

NEW ARTS THEATER -- is a company to watch. Artistic director Camilla David has an eye for uncompromising, thought- provoking new plays. And last year, in its first season, New Arts came up with four attractive, attention-grabbing productions, among them the darkly funny "Summit Conference." David has chosen a season of four new plays with a political/psychological bent. After moving around some last year, New Arts has settled into the 220-seat Pierce Hall of All Souls Church (Harvard and 16th streets NW). Tickets are $12; $10 for seniors and students. Call 654-8332.

AND A NIGHTINGALE SANG -- by C.P. Taylor. Personal crises affect an English working-class family during WWII. October 2 to November 9.

TBA -- The second play is stil undecided, but David hopes to do Caryl Churchill's "Fen," about rural women trying to work together. December 11 to January 18.

DOROTHY -- by Irish playwright Jay Graham Reid. A Belfast family is swept up in political violence. March 26 to May.

SAVAGES -- by Christopher Hampton, juxtaposes two stories: A British diplomat is captured by Brazilian guerrillas, while a tribe of Indians is massacred by the government. Guess which one gets more media attention? May 21 to June 28.

WOOLLY MAMMOTH THEATER COMPANY -- has postponed its season until April, in order to find a new space and build its board of directors and a permanent acting company.

"It's not really bad news," says Linda Reinisch, managing director of the company, which has produced the most risky and on-the-edge material in the city. "We thought we'd better hold off and do it right, rather than plunge right into another season. We need to get out of the church -- we've grown beyond it, we can't make the numbers happen here." The Woollies are looking into spaces downtown and along the 14th Street corridor, but will still begin its repertory season in April at its current home, Church of the Epiphany, through July.

The 110-seat theater is at Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G Street NW. Tickets are $10.50 to $12.50; performances are Wednesday through Sunday, 8 p.m. Call 393-3939.

NEW YORK METS -- by T.J. Edwards, uses baseball as a metaphor for relationships. It debuted this year at Source Theater.

OTHER PLAYS -- under consideration for April repertory include: "Christmas on Mars," an off-the-wall comedy by Harry Kondoleon; "We Won't Pay, We Won't Pay," a political farce by Dario Fo; "Brimstone and Treacle," a serious comedy by Dennis Potter.

GALA HISPANIC THEATER -- begins its 10th anniversary season in the dark. The troupe has been working in a cavernous space in the Lansburgh Building but must vacate because the building is being turned into a shopping center. It's quite a loss, as director Hugo Medrano did wonders with unusual arena staging. Medrano says GALA is looking at a new space in the Adams Morgan area -- a move that would establish a small theater colony of sorts in the upper 16th Street area with with the New Arts Theater, Sanctuary Theater and Teatro Nuestro already present. One drawback -- the space under consideration has a proscenium stage. "We're really scared about that -- we've always worked in arena format," says Medrano, who hopes the new season will begin by January.

LA SICA -- by Argentine playwright Ricardo Talesin. A man decides not to go to work anymore, which of course disrupts his family life. This is the first play GALA presented in 1976. Opening in January.

THE SPINSTER TACNA -- by Maria Vargas Llosa, listens in on a playwright as he recalls an affair of his aristocratic grandmother. February.

BIZARRE GAMES -- by Argentine playwright Susana Torres Molina. The sexual games of two upper-class women. March.

PARADISE ISLAND EXPRESS -- theater group, which shares GALA's space, will also be affected by the move. The company will present "Dear Uncle Sam," an original piece developed from people's letters to the government, at the National Archives, November 19.

SANCTUARY THEATER -- entering its second season, has taken its title from its home in a church at 1459 Columbia Rd. NW. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; tickets are $5. Call 745-3666 for schedule information.

WARNER THEATER

In its 60 years of existence, the venerable, ornate Warner Theater has gone from a 25-cent vaudeville house (for Sophie Tucker and others) to a $35 Broadway house (for Yul Brynner in "The King and I"). Lately, the Warner has played host to quite a few theatrical touring companies.

But because of a shortage of shows on the road this year -- and also because of the competitive pull of the Kennedy Center and the National -- the Warner schedule is light on theater, heavy on concerts. There are a handful of theater-related happenings, though.

The 2,000-seat Warner is at 513 13th Street NW. Ticket prices and performance times vary with the event. Call 626- 1050.

THE DAVID COPPERFIELD MAGIC SHOW -- is not exactly drama, but it does fill up the stage (and empties it, as things disappear). Five performances, October 4 and 5.

UPTOWN: IT'S HOT -- is a new black musical revue along the lines of "Ain't Misbehavin'." November 26 to December 8.

STRATFORD, ONTARIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL -- presents "Twelfth Night" and "King Lear." The acclaimed 35-member company is playing only six cities on this tour. January 28 to February 2.