Peter Schneider, the man who produced both Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King on Broadway for Disney before becoming chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, has stepped down from the latter post to start an independent Broadway theatre production and investment company partially funded by The Walt Disney Company.

Schneider served as chairman for only 18 months, and it is rumored that the relatively disappointing performances of both Pearl Harbor and Atlantis at movie theatres this summer may have led to his exit.

According to The New York Post, Schneider’s first production for his new venture will be the very un-Disney like The Dance of Death by August Strindberg.

“I wish Peter all the success and happiness as he goes forward,” says Disney chairman Michael Eisner. “For the last 16 years, he has been a wonderful colleague and friend who has been at the center of our incredible creative successes in animation and the legitimate theatre. He has chosen to go back to his roots in live theatre. Whether Peter is producing a play on Broadway or wherever his plans take him, I will be with him in spirit.”

Says Schneider, “The past 16 years working for Disney have been the most gratifying of my life. It has been an honor to be part of this company’s fantastic heritage and to have worked with some of the finest entertainment people in the world. I want to thank Michael Eisner and Roy Disney for their strong support and encouragement from the very beginning, back in 1985.”

Schneider, an executive at Disney since 1985, has been in his current position since January 2000 and previously served as president of The Walt Disney Studios after having headed Disney’s Feature Animation unit. In December of 1997, Schneider presented TCI Awards to architect Hugh Hardy for his work on the restoration of the New Amsterdam Theatre and to director/designer Julie Taymor for her work on The Lion King.