The Alexandria Planning Commission last week unanimously approved a special use permit to allow the American Showcase Theatre Company to build a 60-seat theater in a building in the Station Shops shopping center.

The City Council, which must approve the special use, will consider the proposal in early September.

Founded in 1984, the American Showcase Theatre Company Inc. is a nonprofit organization that offers acting classes and workshops in the Station Shops building and produces live performances in rented space throughout the Washington area.

Some of the plays are performed by a troupe of about 10 actors who work closely with the company, and auditions are held for other plays produced by the group. The company has two paid staff members, producing director Carolyn Griffin and artistic director Jill Kamp.

The company is financed by fees charged for acting classes, and grants from the Alexandria and Virginia arts commissions, as well as donations from several corporations.

The theater, scheduled to open by mid-October, would be located one block from the King Street Metro station in the Station Shops at 1822 Duke St. The Oliver Carr Co., which owns the shopping center, has provided the rent-free space to the theater company since 1984 and recently told the group that it could use the building rent-free until the shopping center is redeveloped, "which could happen tomorrow or in several years," said Tom Ikeler, director of special projects for the Oliver Carr Co.

For six months in 1985, the company worked out of the basement of Griffin's Alexandria home. The group has not had any live performances for the past year.

"We have students who drive up every night from Fredericksburg to take a class, and from as far away as Gaithersburg," Griffin said.

The theater will have seats donated by the Circle Theater Corp. from the Avalon Theatre in Washington. The stage will be about 16 by 20 feet with elevated seats on three sides . The space in the building is about 30 by 100 feet. The Planning Commission recommended that performances be limited to Thursdays through Sundays.

"Our goal is to open with our first production in mid-October," Griffin said. The first play performed in the new theater, if it is approved by the council, will be "Old Times" by Harold Pinter, which will run for about five weeks, followed by a three-month run of "The Fantasticks."

The American Showcase Theatre Company is a professional company. Other theater groups in Alexandria are the West End Dinner Theatre, also a professional group, and two community theaters that use volunteer actors, the Port City Playhouse and the Little Theatre of Alexandria.

"I personally think it's a shame that we've been in Alexandria for 10 years and we can't seem to get anything {rent-free} like that," said a member of the Port City Playhouse board of directors, who asked not to be named.

"The City of Alexandria does give us some funding, but that goes to pay {play} royalties," the board member said. "We pay rent to have our performances at the {city school} administration building, and we pay for all our advertising . . . . We pay for everything. That's my only qualm about this new theater."