PLAY DOUGH: New Playwrights' Theater is one of seven nonprofit professional theaters chosen to receive grant funds from the newly established Fund for New American Plays. The Fund, a joint project of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Express Company, and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, provides money for enhanced productions of plays making their debuts during the current season.

"This kind of thing is so necessary," said New Playwrights' artistic director Peter Frisch before he left Wednesday to accept his $15,000 check from Kennedy Center chairman Roger L. Stevens in New York. "It's so hard to support a theater that does new work. You have a new play, and it many not exactly be 'Twelfth Night' right away. So it's hard to get critics to put that into perspective, and hard to get audiences to submit themselves to new work sight unseen."

Stevens said the Fund "takes a pragmatic approach to the problem" of getting new plays on the boards. "New plays are the lifeblood of the theater . . . and young playwrights hold the theater's future in their hands. Both are in jeopardy today because of the expense involved in mounting productions that truly reflect the intentions of the playwright."

Frisch submitted three new plays for consideration, and Chicago playwright John Logan's "Speaking In Tongues" was chosen. And as if to illustrate Frisch's point about the difficulties new plays face, "Speaking In Tongues," a complex dramatic biography of filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, was "rejected outright" by the first reader on the Fund committee. But luckily, Frisch says, "Roger Stevens picked it up, took it home and read it and was very excited by it.

"It's just about the most exciting world of a play I've seen -- I'm not saying it's the best play," Frisch says. "But that just means we want John to make it the best possible play." The grant will allow Frisch to bring Logan to Washington for a pre-rehearsal residency at New Playwrights' and will support the considerable technical demands of the play, which requires the use of film. "Speaking In Tongues" is scheduled to open at NPT in April.

Other theaters and plays that received Fund-ing: the Capital Repertory Company of Albany, NY, $45,000 for "Saint Florence" by Elizabeth Diggs; Crossroads Theater Company of New Brunswick, N.J., $50,000 for "To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine," by Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner; Hartford Stage Company of Hartford, Conn., $20,000 for "Morocco" by Allan Havis; L.A. Theater Words of Venice, California, $20,000 for "The Grace of Mary Travers" by Timberlake Wertenbaker; Philadelphia Festival Theater for New Plays, $50,000 for "Established Price" by Dennis McIntyre; The Second Stage of New York, $35,000 for "Spoils of War" by Michael Weller.

"This is the one time playwrights are treated like special people," says Ernie Joselovitz of the third annual Playwrights' Conference, to be held Sunday in the Helen Hayes Gallery of the National Theatre. "The theaters are there at the playwrights' behest, and it's the only time that ever happens."

Joselovitz should know. An accomplished and prolific playwright himself, he is the founder of the Playwrights' Unit, which provides writing assistance and encouragement to Washington playwrights, and he originated the annual conference, which has grown considerably in three years, attracting 20 participating theaters this year, from Arena Stage to the Little Theater of Alexandria.

The day begins with a panel of local playwrights "who have achieved a measure of success," Joselovitz says. Playwrights T.J. Edwards, Ken Ludwig, Deborah Pryor, Mark Stein and Ron Wood will talk about their playwriting and production experiences with various theaters -- which should be as entertaining as it is informative. Next up is a panel of actors and directors, including Howard Shalwitz, artistic director of Woolly Mammoth Theater Company and Jerry Whiddon, artistic director of Round House Theater. The third panel involves "the funding people" -- representatives from the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Maryland Arts Council will do a "strictly business" presentation on applying for grants and other business side of the art. All participants will have the opportunity to hang out at the "schmooze bar" where refreshments will be served and ideas will be exchanged.

Joselovitz says everyone, especially aspiring playwrights, is welcome. "Most things happen when playwrights meet with the theaters on this informal basis. But we don't allow playwrights to bring scripts," he cautions, though they can bring notebooks. The conference is Sunday from 10 to 4, and a $5 donation is requested (it pays for the bagels). Call 667-3623 to RSVP.

Bulletin Board: Horizons Theater's "A . . . My Name Is Alice" is extended through November . . . The Actors' Center is presenting its fifth annual showcase, an evening of scenes, 8 p.m. Monday at the Marvin Center Theater at George Washington University. Nine directors and 24 actors will present short scenes from a dozen plays. It's free, but reservations are recommended. Call 638-3777 . . . The satirical troupe Gross National Product, whose "Man Without A Contra" was bi-coastal this summer, with casts in Washington and Los Angeles, returns to d.c. space November 4 with a new show, "Ten Little Candidates." And to celebrate the 10th anniversary of d.c. space, the troupe will be reuniting members of the Video Buddies crew for a special performance Sunday at 7 p.m. . . . Also home again is Joan Cushing, aka the saucy Mrs. Foggybottom. Cushing played New York's Ballroom this summer and moves into the Marquee Lounge at the Shoreham Hotel for performances Thursdays through Saturdays. Saturday nights at 10 p.m., she'll have a special guest -- this week it's Reagan impersonator Don Williams. Call 745-1023 or 234-0700 x6612 . . .