FLAIR IS the word for an unlikely California theater an hour's drive from Rancho el Cielo, the Reagans' retreat. While the first family gazes at burninglogs the president has chopped, traveling White House correspondents would do well to roll down coastal Route 101 to Santa Maria.

In this small town of the lovely Santa Ynez valley, they will find a two-year community college, Alan Hancock, and its 450-seat Marian Theater. That's home for the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, where professional actors serve as leads and instructors for some 100 of the college's 8,000 students.

Its three-quarter stage, thrusting out into the gently steeped auditorium, reflects the increasingly intimate quality of America's theater movement, though its mix of experts and tyros is relatively unusual. In summers the group trucks 20 miles up the valley to perform on an exactly matched stage in that Disney-like Scandinavian village, Solvang.

The conservatory is the brainchild of Texan Donovan Marley, who, admiring the area after service in Korea, wrote the school system to land a teaching job.

Hancock president Walter E. Conrad offered Marley the challenge of starting a theater department, but promised very little. That was 18 years ago. Marley so inspired theSee THEATER, K4, Col. 5 Theater Fire ----In -----San Diego THEATER, From K1 townspeople that they floated a special bond to build the Marian and a smaller, experimental stage.

Marley has gone about creating his staff of performing teachers resourcefully, drawing professionals from all along the coast, from Oregon's Shakespeare Festival to San Diego's Old Globe. Equity's Eddie Weston has been helpful. Signing on for individual productions, the experts are able to continue their careers in the wealthier fields of films, TV and stage productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Oregon's Richard L. Hay is a good example. For "Billy Budd," just ending, he created an imaginative set for H.M.S. Indomitable of 1797, using the auditorium entrances to suit director Marley's approach.

As drama, film and opera, "Billy Budd" usually accents the clash Melville charted between pure Billy and evil Claggart. To this, Marley adds a challenge for his exceptionally large cast of 40-odd. Through mime, each performer makes individuals of the crew, a subtle approach that exploits the theater's intimacy and indicates the quality that distinguishes this relatively little-known but first-rate theater.

With Michael Tulin in the title part, Michael Winters as de Vere and Byron Jennings as Claggart, the major characters are projected with virile skills. Mark Harelik, who had made of Robert Patrick's "Judas" an intriguing, sensitive figure four summers ago, again was striking as Wyatt.

Unfamiliar programming is a Pacific Conservatory feature. Coming up is the American premiere of Keith Dewhurst's paean to English country life, "Lark Rise," and an expanded version of a new musical, co-authored by the staff's Randal Myler, "Hank Williams, King of Country Music."

The latter could prove to be one of those new American works the Kennedy Center needs so badly. Following the career of the Alabama singer-composer ("Your Cheatin' Heart") who died 30 years ago, this provided a rich role for the gifted Harelik in its initial version. This show seems to be a musical of solid contemporary promise.

FIRE IN the spring of '78 destroyed San Diego's respected Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. Now it has risen again as a three-theater complex, which will include the "temporary" outdoor theater speedily erected to save that summer.

The Old Globe began when, at the end of the '37 California Pacific International Exposition, the building that had housed cutdown Shakespearean works was sold to wreckers for $400. Outraged citizens raised $10,000, preserved the building and created the San Diego Community Theater.

Under Craig Noel and with productions by the legendary B. Iden Payne, the Old Globe has made a solid name over the past four decades and, equally important, has served as an early showcase for such now admired players as Cliff Robertson, Barry Bostwick, Sada Thompson, Michael Learned, Ellis Rabb, Cleavon Little, William Marshall, Christopher Reeve, Elizabeth Huddle, Beah Richards, Leonard Nimoy and Anthony Zerbe. Small wonder the place casts a special glow.

Oregon's Richard Hay again takes a central role here as designer of the theater and of its opening production, "As You Like It." As he had for Oregon's Angus Bowmer Theater in Ashland, Hay accents intimacy while maintaining the old Old Globe's Elizabethan form and design of half-timbers and oak railings.

Though the auditorium is larger -- 581 seats compared with the former 420 -- Hay stresses the closest relationship between players and audience. No seat is farther than 60 feet from the stage. The acoustics won instant praise; this is important, for this company has been noted for its elocution at a time when body mikes have come into wretched vogue.

Ellis Rabb returns to play Jaques with a "Seven Ages of Man" reading that will be a model for many. Peter Donat, Eric Christmas and G. Wood are others in the cast familiar to Washington audiences.

There will be 12 productions the first eight months in the three theaters -- the 245-seat Cassius Carter Centre Stage and the outdoor holdover are the others. Besides Peter Parnell's "Sorrows of Stephen," which Washington has not seen, there's to be a manuscript play by David Rimmer, "Yankees' Wives," a comedy about baseball spouses from exhibition games to the World Series. No theater in the land is worth its salt these days without a fling at New York.

FIREWORKS, not dramatic performances, dominated Hawaii's first theatrical month of 1982.

Most everything on stage in Oahu had its roots in the past, including a thrice-deferred "The Importance of Being Earnest," a Kabuki-style "Richard III" and several "Aida" performances with Lorna Haywood and Harry Theyard, both Washington familiars.

The fireworks spectacular occurred New Year's Eve, a Hawaii tradition I'd witnessed four years before and couldn't wait to experience again.

From a swimming pool terrace high on St. Louis Hill, overlooking Diamond Head down the maze of 20-story condos of Waikiki, I carried a memory of firecracker noises that, starting around 5 p.m., reached a deafening roar at midnight and beyond. It had been a sound and smell of mesmerizing crescendos -- pure theater.

Now fireworks had been added to the flash of firecrackers and this year's greeting, many agreed, was more stupendous a racket and spectacle than ever before.

Reported university journalism student Li Xing:

"I am from Peking, China, and had never seen such a big firework display before. I was surprised when told that one family spent $400 and another $1,000 on fireworks. It is true that the Chinese people like fireworks and firecrackers. It is our tradition. But from my balcony I found myself surrounded by smoke. When I looked down at Manoa Valley, the usual bright lights had dis-See THEATER, K5, Col. 1 Theater Fireworks In -----Hawaii -THEATER, From K4 appeared. Instead, the whole area was filled with smoke, smelling of gunpowder."

She spoke true. Lights of the skyscrapers vanished, even the lighted Santa atop a derrick. Police estimated that more than $1.5 million had been spent on this deafening, eye-filling display.

Fire did $60,000 worth of damage to a home on Maunalani Heights and there were 40 minor fires to keep the sirens screaming. On Kauai two men were injured when a 10-inch skyrocket exploded under the care of an imported "fireworks expert." The Big Island (Hawaii) reported 13 injuries and 25 fires.

For days the papers were filled with boiling letters about a Labrador retriever "now so doped up that he can't tell my leg from a fire hydrant," of "frazzled nerves, splitting headache and illness caused by smoke pollution" and about uniformed police who, patrolling Waikiki, "failed to eliminate the multitude of fireworks set off in that restricted area."

Sale of fireworks from lean-to shacks had begun several days before but, through city and court differences, their sale was limited to a matter of hours. The media kept reiterating that their use would be prohibited in most parts of the city, the Advertiser even printing a color map showing the verboten areas.

For all its lack of more subtle dramatic attractions, Hawaii has just been ranked fourth, after New York, Nevada and California, in its supply of performing artists. The source is the just-published David Savageau-Richard Boyer "Places Rated Almanac," which also ranked Atlanta and Washington as the most desirable places to live among 277 American cities.

Hawaii's ranking near the top of our performing arts states clearly stems from hula dancers and native singers without which no Hawaiian hotel, motel or hole-in-the-wall tourist trap could respect itself. But in the fields of painting and sculpture, Hawaii was ranked No. 1 among medium-sized metropolitan areas.

The study made no mention of the fireworks.