AT A RECENT symposium on violence against women in film and theater, Gillian Drake, director of "Scheherazade" at Horizons Theater, had the last word on the controversial play. "It's not a 'rape play,' " Drake said. "It's a survival play. The rape is only the beginning."

Drake admitted she wondered "why anyone would want to see a rape play," and said she was initially reluctant to take the job when Horizons offered her the script. "As a general rule, I have refused to go to any movie that has any violence against women, and I will steer clear of anything I know has any gratuitous violence. I have never seen a Brian De Palma film," Drake said.

"I was sent the script, and I said 'Hmmm, a rape play. Probably not.' But it's a very bare script. This is the way {playwright} Marisha Chamberlain wrote it: 'He rapes her.' Period. It was so non-sensational that I came to believe that the violence was not the most important part of this play. The important part was the playing out of human reactions under extreme circumstances. And how in our most critical times, we hope the good and healthy instinct for survival comes out and we're able to intuit what can be done.

"So I justified myself into taking the play," Drake said. "In fact, I refused to believe there was violence in it until the first day of rehearsal, when I realized we were going to need a fight director, something I never thought I'd require."

Drake hired fight choreographer Lory Leshin to stage the brief but brutal assault at the outset of the play. The director also brought in several consultants to visit the cast, including a woman who was held hostage for several hours in a rather famous recent rape case. "The parallel between her case and the play was so strong it became a model for us," Drake says. "She was forced to travel for hours in a car with him, then wound up hostage in a hotel room. And she had to try to find out what kind of behavior he would accept, she made deals with him, tried all sorts of things. And afterwards, she said, she has had to find ways of working it out and acting it out -- some have been rational but others were extremely irrational." Drake also brought in a rape crisis counselor and policeman from the Parks Service who has worked on a number of rape cases.

The play can be a rather grueling emotional experience for actors and audiences alike. Interestingly, actress Carole Myers, who plays the victim, Ann, who keeps her attacker at bay until she can hope for release, has said she has little trouble "coming down" after the play; she relies on acting technique and craft to separate her from the part she plays. Bill Whitaker, who plays the rapist, Joe, has a more difficult time of it. "This has apparently happened in other productions, too," Drake says. "If the actor is any kind of method actor, he'll have to find some part of that character in himself. And the men want to believe there's no part of this guy in them." The cast of "Scheherazade" meets the audience for a discussion of the play after the Friday and Sunday performances.

No one can say for sure what's an asset and what's a liability when it comes to acting. Take the case of Washington actor Beverly Brigham, who landed a speaking part in Baltimore director John Waters' latest movie "Hairspray." (Sadly, Brigham found out just last week that her scene, and its corresponding subplot, wound up on the cutting room floor.)

Strangely enough, Brigham says she originally got the part thanks to her appearance in Source Theater's outdoor production of Tom Eyen campfest "Women Behind Bars" two summers ago. "It was so bad I was going to take it off my resume'," Brigham says. "But when John saw that, his face just lit up -- 'You were in "Women Behind Bars?" ' It seems Divine {star of 'Hairspray'} was in the original cast in New York. And so he cast me. So you never know what's going to sell."

Bulletin Board: The First Annual Cast Bash, held at Herb's Restaurant last month, raised more than $10,000 to be divided by the theaters of the 14th Street "theater district" . . . As part of Woolly Mammoth's "Inside Woolly" symposium series, the cast of "Sharon and Billy" will discuss the play and its presentation on Sunday at 6 p.m., before the regular 8 p.m. performance. The talk is free (you gotta pay for the play). Call 393-3939 . . . Laurence Holder's play "Zora and Langston," based on the lives and careers of black writers Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, will be premiered Sunday, 2:30 p.m. at the Pratt Central Library, 400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore. It's free. Call 396-5494 . . . In addition to its production of "Macbeth," which opens Monday, the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger is presenting an evening of two short works by Molie`re, in its rehearsal space at Fourth and Independence SE. The plays are "The Versailles Impromptu," Molie`re's satire of his own acting troupe, and "The Forced Marriage," a farce. The dates are February 29 to March 3, the time is 8 p.m. Call 547-3230 . . . Since 14th Street's Javarama coffeehouse closed and founder/programmer B. Stanley left for New York, there aren't many outlets for avant-garde impulses. Enter "The Living Room," an open showcase for improvisation and works in progress. Actors, dancers, musicians, performance poets, storytellers and unclassifiables are invited to try out their new ideas this Saturday at en marge, a gallery/performance space at 2108 18th St. NW, 2nd floor. It's two bucks at the door. Call 232-7685 . . . In a similar vein, Brian Tate presents "Tate's Nite-O-Laffs," an evening of offbeat comedy/performance by 10 local jokels, 11 p.m. Friday at d.c. space.