WHAT I(AN) DID on summer vacation: Our London correspondent sent along a clipping, a reminiscence by actor Ian McKellen in The Guardian newspaper about his visit to America's theaters.

McKellen originally came Over Here in February to appear in "Wild Honey," a London import that was a critical and commercial disappointment in Los Angeles and on Broadway. Vowing (once more) never to work on Broadway again, McKellen nevertheless decided to stay on, with a mini-tour of his splendid one-man "Acting Shakespeare," which played the National in the early spring, and returned for a summer run at the Olney Theater.

An excerpt from his impressions of a Washington summer provides a view from the other side of the footlights -- for full effect, read them in your most musical English accent:

"In stately Washington, D.C., I played to 1,800 people a night in a touring theater that had been empty for six months . . . {After 'Wild Honey' closed} I was free to go to the village of Olney, where, surrounded by the corn fields of Maryland, there is a wooden 600-seater that presents an annual summer season of popular plays. For the last 20 years or so it has provided vacational and vocational employment for the theater students from the Catholic University in nearby Washington. More low wages. Stage-hands, electricians, wardrobe and box-office staff all live together, with the actors, in a large house next to the theater -- cooking and eating in a communal kitchen.

"My enduring memory of last July, 100 degrees in the muggy shade, is of home-popped corn and ice-cold drinks in the lounge where we watched, astounded, the late-night reruns of Colonel North's evidence before the Senate Committee. The local haberdasher was doing a roaring trade in T-shirts with the legend "Give 'em hell, Ollie." We decided to raise money to supply air conditioning for the disgusting black holes above the theater, where some of the students slept. We had our own T-shirts printed and, by flogging them at the end of show, raised the necessary. The haberdasher told me that we had outsold Ollie. Even at the height of his celebrity, he was less popular than Shakespeare -- at least in Olney.

"Just to the north is the little city of Columbia, built 10 years ago with all the modern amenities including a theater -- of sorts. Toby's, named after its proprietress, is a dinner-theater, where you eat before the show. As the last cup of instant coffee is removed, the lights dim and on with the show, which, the afternoon I was there, was a cut-down version of 'George M!' -- a parade of Cohan's patriotic songs, strung together with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of tap-dancing. The audience of half-price pensioners applauded every song, every laugh and every exit. At the finale, as the Stars and Stripes unfurled from the low ceiling, every aged one of them staggered up and saluted, hand over heart.

"There was a young chorus line of 18 full-throated singers and dancers. One in particular caught my attention. I only realised why at the interval, when she returned to continue waiting at my table. Indeed, the entire cast were waiters. Their pay was minimal -- Equity having no jurisdiction over Toby. The main clause in the actors' contracts concerned the number of tables they would be permitted to wait at.

"I left the States, grateful for the welcome of the 200 audiences who saw my show. I was fearful for all those optimistic youngsters I left behind in Olney, at ACT in San Francisco and at Toby's, who will never share the support and safety of the British system of subsidy."

Bulletin Board: Continuing its gradual process of revitalization, New Playwrights' Theater takes us from winter into spring with a staged reading series. It opens with "More Fun Than Bowling," a comedy by Steven Deitz about bowling, hairstyling and love after death. The reading, directed by actor Nick Olcott, is January 11 at 7:30 p.m. Future play previews include "Bunches of Betty" by Dana Coen (February 15); "The Wings of Moony Fishbein" by Ron Mark (March 14); "White Crow" by Murray Teigh Bloom (April 18); and "There's an Angel in Las Vegas" by Sean O'Connor (May 16). Each staged reading is followed by a discussion; the evenings are free (though they'd appreciate a $5 donation). Call 232-1122 . . . Dierdre C. Henderson has put together "My Sisters in Me," a one-woman show featuring material by Billie Holiday, Ntozake Shange, Whoopi Goldberg and Nikki Giovanni. It plays Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at d.c. space . . . Petrucci's Dinner Theater is tackling the gender-switched version of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple"; the very funny Washington actresses Lynnie Raybuck and Rebecca Siegel play Olive (nee' Oscar) and Florence (formerly Felix) . . . Theatersports does its improvisational comedy thing 8 p.m. Saturday at Java Rama, 14th and T NW.