Second Stage Theatre, a major showcase for contemporary American playwrights, is expanding to Broadway.

The nonprofit off-Broadway theater, which in its nearly 30 years of existence has produced plays by such writers as Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, August Wilson, Douglas Carter Beane and Sarah Ruhl, has acquired the rights to purchase Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre.

No price was disclosed but Second Stage will raise $35 million to buy and renovate the nearly 600-seat theater, located on a prime West 44th Street block in the heart of the theater district.

"We needed some way of securing our future because we are in a rental situation," Carole Rothman, the theater's founding director, said Thursday. "You can't make plans when you are renting ... You have to find a way to really sustain an institution over a long period of time."

Second Stage currently leases two theaters.

"We only do plays by contemporary American writers. We don't do classics or go shopping for plays in London," Rothman said.

That philosophy will continue when Second Stage begins programming the Helen Hayes sometime during the 2010-11 theater season.

Second Stage will become the fourth nonprofit theater to own and operate a Broadway house. The others: the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and Lincoln Center Theater.

"The Helen Hayes is a beautiful theater," Rothman said. "It doesn't need extensive renovation. It was just done a year ago before `Xanadu' (the theater's current tenant) went in."

The theater, originally known as the Little Theatre, was built in 1912. Over the years it has been used periodically for radio and television shows before being returned to theatrical use. In 1983, it was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre after the famous stage actress. The original Helen Hayes Theatre had been demolished several years earlier to make way for a new hotel.

What the theater will be called when Second Stage takes over the space isn't certain.

"I haven't stepped into that area yet," Rothman said. "But her (Helen Hayes) name will definitely remain somewhere."


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