Long before "Miami Vice" star Don Johnson started fashionably chasing drug dealers, pimps and other nogoodniks across southern Florida, he was a bona fide, card-carrying thespian of the "To be or not to be" variety, having been a member of San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre for 1 1/2 years back in the late-'60s.

So, Johnson, a former drama student at the University of Kansas, would seem the obvious (ahem) choice to receive this year's American College Theatre Festival Citation of Excellence. Johnson, who joins an auspicious group of past recipients that includes Helen Hayes, Patti LuPone and the late Lynn Fontanne, will be presented the citation during the Irene Ryan Evening of Scenes competition Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

The 12 students (one of whom might just be the next Sonny Crockett) slated to compete for two $2,500 scholarships are: Doug Miller, University of Alaska; Brenda Hayes, California Institute of the Arts; Keith D. Aytch, California State University; Richard Nelson, University of Utah; Libba Carver, Angelo State University; Bill O'Brien, University of Northern Iowa; Michael McAllister, University of Minnesota; Kevin Hardesty, University of Kentucky; Shawn Durr, Western Illinois University; Tim Gregory, Otterbein College; Michelle Begley, Montclair State College; Dare Dukes, College of the Holy Cross.

Free tickets to the event have already been distributed, but seats not occupied 10 minutes before curtain time will be made available to those not holding tickets. Tribute to Thomas Fichandler

The staff of Arena Stage surprised outgoing executive director Thomas C. Fichandler with a champagne party yesterday, his last day at the theater he helped found more than 35 years ago. Well-wishers included William Stewart, who takes over today as managing director, and producing director (and ex-wife) Zelda Fichandler, who with Tom, has seen Arena develop from a small local theater into one of the country's leading resident companies.

The League of Resident Theaters also recently paid tribute to him, praising his pioneering role in the resident theater movement at a surprise ceremony at the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge, Mass., where LORT was holding its spring meeting. "I was very touched by it," said Tom, who in 1966 cofounded LORT and later served for six years as its president. "It's nice to be appreciated by your peers." He said he now plans to travel a lot but will remain on Arena's board of directors and work as a consultant for the Foundation for the Extension and Development of American Professional Theaters. Hall of Fame

Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, and Rosemary Harris, who opens tomorrow night in "Hay Fever" at the Eisenhower Theater, will be inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame April 21. This year's other inductees, who are chosen by the nation's drama critics, are Christopher Plummer, George C. Scott, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Michael Bennett, Jerry Herman, Raymond Massey and the late Sir Michael Redgrave. On the Boards

GALA Hispanic Theatre is back in the Mount Pleasant/Adams-Morgan neighborhood, having signed a three-year lease on the 250-seat auditorium in the Sacred Heart Parish School, 1625 Park Rd. NW. GALA celebrates its 10th anniversary with the opening Thursday of "La Fiaca," an Argentine comedy that was the first play produced by GALA, which will be performed only in Spanish . . . Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie" will be performed on stage in American sign language by Gilbert Eastman and offstage in dramatic voice by John MacDonald Thursday through Sunday at the Great Hall of the National Portrait Gallery. For reservations to the free shows call 357-2729 (voice) or 357-4522 (telecommunication device for the deaf) . . . John Richardson's "Brotherhood" begins previews Thursday at the New Playwrights' Theatre, where it will run through April 27.