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There's no business like local show business // Playbook, theater by theater

Far from the cutthroat environment of Hollywood or Broadway, community theater is a kinder, gentler way to pursue the spotlight. By definition, anyone can audition, and anyone can help behind the scenes _ in fact, community theaters are always hungry for volunteers. No one is paid, but everyone has a good time.

"It's fun to see your friends on stage," said Buzz Dawson of Clearwater, who sees 35 to 40 plays a year and helps build stages for several local theater groups.

"I get more pleasure from watching a live show than from going to the movies," he said.

While many local theaters once were territorial, and protective of their volunteer talent, that is no longer the case as the number of theaters has grown, stage veterans say. Many actors audition for productions across the Tampa Bay area, and all but the most loyal volunteers help out wherever they are needed.

"All of our theaters are one big happy family. We work together, talk to each other and share things with each other," said B.J. Pucci, director of the Clearwater City Players. "It's wonderful."

Avenue Players Theatre, Tarpon Springs, is a professional non-equity theater that was founded four years ago to provide the area with classic theater. It produces two dramas a year, and is planning a March performance of Caesar and Cleopatra.

Appearing now is Agatha Christie's Murder on the Nile at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and Nov. 10, 11, 17, 18, and 2 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19. Tarpon Springs Performing Art Center, 324 E Pine St., Tarpon Springs. Tickets are $11. Call 942-5605.

Clearwater City Players was started in 1972 and is sponsored by the city of Clearwater. At its peak it produced four musicals a year, but budget constraints shrank the company's output to one performance a year, produced at Ruth Eckerd Hall the first weekend each August. This year's musical production was The Music Man. Next year's show has yet to be announced.

Eight O'Clock Theatre, Largo, celebrates its 15th season with four shows, including the musicals Zorba and A ... My Name is Alice, and the comedy Romantic Comedy. After more than seven years without a permanent home, the theater company will use the Tonne Playhouse in the new Largo Cultural Center when it's finished next year.

The theater company will open the season with Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at 8 p.m. Nov. 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, and 2 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19 at Largo High School Auditorium, 410 N Missouri Ave. in Largo. Tickets are $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for children under 12 and $7.50 for groups of 10 or more. Call 587-6793.

Francis Wilson Playhouse, Clearwater incorporated in 1930 as the Little Theatre of Clearwater, and moved into its present home in 1935. It's named for Broadway character actor Francis Wilson, who spent summers in Clearwater. The playhouse opened its season last month with Witness for the Prosecution. Among the six other performances planned are A Thousand Clowns and the operetta Desert Song. Now showing is Dracula: The Musical? at 8 p.m. today and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Francis Wilson Playhouse is at 302 Seminole St. in Clearwater. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students. Call 446-1360.

The Seminole Players celebrate their 10th season doing Broadway musicals in a dinner theater setting. Their former home, The Tides, is slated for demolition, prompting the players to move to St. Pete. There are eight performances planned for 1995-96, including Rumors, Arsenic and Old Lace and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. All programs include dinner.

Hello, Dolly! will be performed 8 p.m. Nov. 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25 and Dec. 1 and 2, with 1 p.m. performances Nov. 11, 18, 25 and Dec. 2, and 6 p.m. performances Nov. 12, 19, 26 and Dec. 3 at the Spotlight Theater in the Gateway Mall, 7951 9th St. N in St. Petersburg. Tickets for 6 and 8 p.m. shows are $30 and $25 for 1 p.m. performances. Reservations are required. Call 579-0606.

West Coast Community Theatrebegins its second season after last April's performance of Blithe Spirit. The theater company is looking for a permanent home.

The offbeat family comedy You Can't Take it With You will be presented at 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11, and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Schiller International University Theatre, 453 Edgewater Drive (Alt. U.S. 19) in Dunedin. Tickets are $10 and include refreshments. Call 789-4144.