More than 600 high school and college students immersed themselves in the world of theater last week at the fifth annual Theater Workshop Seminar held at the Kennedy Center.

The all-day seminar on careers in the theater was sponsored by the Theatre School College of Performing and Visual Arts, 306 H Street NW, and Friends of the Kennedy Center. Moderators of nearly a dozen workshops discussed nearly every aspect of the stage from lighting to theater opportunities in the army.

C. Wayne Rudisill, director of the seminar and president of the Theatre School, estimated that some 5,000 metropolitan area students have attended the seminar since its inception in 1972.

"The major purpose of the seminar is educational," said Rudisill. "It was formulated to bring students together with renowned professionals to exchange ideas and let people who work at the grass-roots level of theater hold workshops.

The highlight of the afternoon was a spirited panel discussion with Broadway theater personalities Richard Barr, a producer, and Harold Clurman, a director and critic.The discussion was moderated by Dr. Vera Mowry Roberts, director of theater and cinema arts at Hunter College in New York.

As hundreds of students and their teachers participated in the open discussion, the panelists presented their views with the aplomb and expression of a troupe engaging in improvisational theater.

"The amateur producer is someone who thinks it would be fun to do a play," began the rather subdued Barr, explaining the difference between a professional and an amateur producer. "The professional producer, he's the man willing to hock his house in order to do a show."

Barr, a native Washingtonian, has co-produced such Broadway productions as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "The Front Page," and "The Boys In the Band," among others. As Barr concluded his discourse, Clurman took over the scene.

Clurman's productions have included "A Member of the Wedding," "Bus Stop,", and "A Touch of the Poet."

"No director who's a good director can be a dictator!" he thundered, emphasizing each point with a hearty stomp. "A director is not God! But we talk to the real God, or demigods," he smiled. "The critics!"

Claude Katz, a Belgian exchange student, sat chuckling softly, his eyes shining as he took in the scene.

"In Belgium you don't find theater groups in high school," Katz, a senior at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Md., said, "If you're interested in theater you don't have any way to act."

In the two-and-a-half months he's been in the U.S., Katz has tried to make up for lost time. He joined in the improvisational workshops at the seminar, he said, and this fall he'll make his acting debut in a school production.

"I'm playing a devil," he chuckled. "My native language is French and it's pretty hard to act in English, but I don't have to talk much to be a devil. Besides, to be a devil in English is the same as a devil in French."

Anna Lee Trader, a theater arts teacher at Mardela High School in Mardela Springs, Va., brought four of her students to the seminar to sharpen their skills for this year's school production, she said. Denise Price, 16, attended the make-up seminar to learn "how you could make ordinary people into old people and different ethnic people," she said. Benjamin Brown, 17, polished his acting technique in the theater arts workshops while singers Jeannia Cray, 17, and Pam Littleton, 16, learned new voice techniques in the music workshops.

District high school students from McKinley Tech said the workshops had reaffirmed their commitment to the theater. Gregory Tooks, 17, a student who has written and directed plays for his church, said he found the seminars inspiring. Leroy Campbell, 15, and Phyllis Camper, 16, expressed an undying interest in music, while Dorothy James, 15, decided a law career and acting were synonomous; therefore she could do both.

"It's the same thing, since you have to act in the courtroom," James said.

All of the students expressed a strong interest in acting, and the panel was questioned closely about the future direction of theater, how to acquire auditions, and whether practical acting experience was more important than a college education. The panel answered both yes and no to the last question. The most thundering round of applause was reserved for the flamboyant Clurman.

"When I hear people just talking about theater, theater, theater, I become worried," roared Clurman. "In order to go into theater, you should know history! music! literature! art! You should know the world!"