The One Thing About Second Stage Theatre’s Acquisition of the Helen Hayes Theatre No One’s Discussing


Below I’m pasting in the text of the press release, sent out on Thursday just in time for Friday reportage, announcing the Second Stage Theatre will be purchasing its first Broadway house — the Helen Hayes — and taking over its programming as of 2010. But there’s one thing in this release, which is as sunny and optimistic as you’d expect, that is contained in the actual release. No, it’s buried in Robin Pogrebin’s coverage of the announcement in the New York Times:

Second Stage will raise $35 million to buy and renovate the theater, the company’s founding director, Carole Rothman, said. The Helen Hayes is likely to be renamed.

Can’t you see the headline?:

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What a total outrage. I’m going to start a campaign to stop Rothman before she even starts to think about it. What, she’ll allow it to be renamed for some tenant-raping real estate developer? Where the hell are her manners? For now, here’s the release. Trust me, I’m not going to let this issue rest.


Third Home Will Be Only Broadway House Dedicated
Exclusively to Producing Contemporary American Theater
Programming in the Helen Hayes Will Begin in 2010

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(New York, NY-Thursday, July 17, 2008)-Second Stage Theatre today announced that it has acquired the right to purchase the historic Helen Hayes Theatre, located at 240 W. 44th Street. With this new home, Second Stage will be the only theater company on Broadway dedicated exclusively to the development and presentation of contemporary American theatrical productions. Second Stage will also become one of only four non-profit theater companies that own and operate theaters on Broadway. The new theater will become Second Stage’s third venue in New York.

Second Stage will continue to lease and operate their original theaters on the city’s Upper West Side and in Midtown Manhattan. They have also entered into the quiet phase of a capital campaign to acquire, renovate, preserve, and operate the new facility and to start an endowment for the organization. Programming in the Helen Hayes will begin in 2010. Until that time, the current owners, Martin Markinson and the late Donald Tick, will continue to operate the theater.

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Since its founding nearly 30 years ago, Second Stage has distinguished itself as a champion and leading producer of American theater, committed to developing and staging new work and nurturing up-and coming playwrights, directors, designers, and actors. It is known for its consistent focus on contemporary American playwrights and for mounting and initiating innovative productions such as Edward Albee’s Peter & Jerry, Jitney by August Wilson, Crumbs from the Table of Joy by Lynn Nottage, Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, Coastal Disturbances by Tina Howe, Jar the Floor by Cheryl L. West, and Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl.

Second Stage has also discovered and nurtured new talent such as Cynthia Nixon, Julie White, Mark Ruffalo, Amy Ryan, Tim Daly, Laurence Fishburne, and Chandra Wilson. In the past six years alone, a number of Second Stage’s notable productions, such as Metamorphoses, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and The Little Dog Laughed, have gone on to extended Broadway runs. Second Stage is also distinguished for its commitment to mounting ‘second stagings’ of recent works that merit further exposure to audiences.

“Acquiring the Helen Hayes is the natural, yet amazing next step for Second Stage in bringing our mission of presenting innovative American theater to the heart of Broadway,” said Carole Rothman, Second Stage Theatre’s founding director. “With this acquisition, we have both the tremendous opportunity and responsibility to help ensure that contemporary American theater remains a vibrant part of Broadway and, in turn, benefits from the power of Broadway to draw and excite new audiences across the nation.”

“Over its lifetime, Second Stage has built a community of artists, and has nurtured literally thousands of theater people,” said Second Stage board co-chair Tony Kiser. “Second Stage has a proven record of success, both artistically and financially, an enviable position for a New York non-profit organization.”

Second Stage board co-chair Stephen Sherrill commented, “Building on thirty years of fiscal responsibility and support, the Theatre is on solid financial footing, allowing us to take this important investment in our artistic development. It’s not often a Broadway house becomes available, but because we have achieved and maintained artist and audience loyalty and financial vitality, we are in a position to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“When I joined Second Stage two years ago, one of my main objectives was to find the company a permanent home,” said Ellen Richard, Second Stage’s executive director. “Opening our third home in a building which we will own provides a firm foundation for long-term planning and financial stability, which is especially important to the health of a not-for-profit theater company.”

“This is the perfect theater for Second Stage,” said Martin Markinson, Helen Hayes Theatre owner since 1977. “The size is well-suited for the presentation of new and innovative work, as we have had the good fortune to realize over the years, and it resonates with the history of the theater as an incubator for innovative works. I think it’s important that original, American drama has a strong presence on Broadway, so I’m thrilled that Second Stage will establish its permanent home at the Helen Hayes Theatre.”

When it opened in 1912, the Little Theatre (as it was then known) had only 300 seats and was built as an intimate house to present new playwrights and experimental dramas that were deemed too risky to stage in large Broadway theaters.

The Helen Hayes Theatre
In the 1920’s, theater architect and designer Herbert J. Krapp redesigned the space to increase capacity to nearly 500 and improve the acoustics. In 1931, the building was sold to the New York Times and converted into a conference hall renamed New York Times Hall. CBS used the theatre as a radio facility for a time, but it was reconverted by ABC into a legitimate theatre in 1958, once again as the Little Theatre. When not being used as a theatrical venue, the building was leased to CBS Radio and the Westinghouse Corporation, among others and housed television and radio shows for ABC and CBS, among them The Dick Clark Show, Who Do You Trust with Johnny Carson, and the Merv Griffin and David Frost shows. After the original Helen Hayes Theatre on 46th Street was razed in the 1980s to make way for the Marriott Marquis Hotel, the Little Theatre was renamed the Helen Hayes to honor the then still-living legend. Notable engagements include a five-year run of Albert Innaurato’s Gemini, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winner Torch Song Trilogy, Tony-winner The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry, Dirty Blonde, Golda’s Balcony and many others. Currently home to Xanadu, the venue remains the smallest house on Broadway and is independently owned and operated by Martin Markinson and the late Donald Tick. In 1987, it was designated as a Landmark Site by the City of New York’s Landmark Preservation Commission.

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Second Stage Theatre
Director Carole Rothman founded Second Stage Theatre in 1979 to give ‘second stagings’ to contemporary American plays that originally failed to find an audience due to scheduling problems, inappropriate venues or limited performance runs. Since then, Second Stage has evolved from a small theatre into an Off-Broadway institution dedicated to developing plays, artists and audiences. In addition to its original mission, the theatre provides emerging authors with their Off-Broadway debuts and produces world premieres by America’s most respected playwrights. Through both the production of new plays and long-term residencies that focus on artistic process rather than product, artists find a supportive environment in which to try new roles, production designs and writing techniques.

Audiences are an essential factor in program development at Second Stage Theatre, which is nationally known for its dedication to building future audiences by educating teens about the art of contemporary theatre and encouraging their participation in the cultural life of New York City.

For nearly three decades, Second Stage Theatre productions have launched the successful careers of numerous directors, actors, playwrights and artists, many of whom regularly return to work at Second Stage. The company’s mission also has expanded to the commissioning of a body of multigenerational plays; the creation of a training base for young directors and a home base for mid-career directors; and the development of educational projects that are integrated with the ongoing artistic work at the theatre.

Second Stage Theatre’s Original Two Homes
Second Stage Theatre’s original home is the McGinn/Cazale Theatre. The first three seasons were presented in a 99-seat house located in the penthouse of a West Side Hotel. The unorthodox Upper West Side location proved a critical asset in building an audience and a loyal subscriber base, and added a new segment to the theatre-going public. In 1984, when Second Stage built its first permanent home on Broadway at 76th Street – the 108-seat McGinn/Cazale Theatre – it deepened its roots as a fixture of this neighborhood where so little theatre was otherwise available. The McGinn/Cazale Theatre is currently the home of Second Stage Theatre’s Uptown series, dedicated to producing American plays by a new generation of theater artists.

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Second Stage Theatre expanded into a second home in April of 1999, marking the twentieth anniversary of the company, and enabling the company to further its mission of rediscovering great American plays while broadening its range of productions. The17,000 square-foot space was designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, in collaboration with New York-based architect Richard Gluckman. A converted historic bank building, the new space tripled Second Stage’s audience capacity to 296 seats and significantly increased the production facilities for large-scale shows.

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