Behind the Scenes With Ted Snowdon

Broadway producer Ted Snowdon has known since he was a small child that he wanted to work in theater. “I remember when the first West Side Story opened on Broadway. I was 11. I knew the music and everything!” he said with characteristic enthusiasm.

After trying his hand at playwriting and directing, Snowdon scored his first Broadway producing credit in 1979 for The Elephant Man, while still in his early 30s. His name “was in very small print in the credits,” he said, “but it was for a major Broadway drama.”

Snowdon has produced dozens of shows on and off Broadway since then, undertaking many that explore gay life, civil rights and politics. “You never know what will happen with a play, so you’d better love it,” he said. “I am very lucky. I’ve been allowed to produce quality theater.”

As a longtime gay rights activist and philanthropist, Snowdon supports a myriad of theater, opera and LGBTQ nonprofits—including GMHC—through the Ted Snowdon Foundation, which he formed in 1997 to give exclusively to arts and LGBTQ causes. Two-thirds of its annual funding goes to LGBTQ groups.

“LGBTQ organizations are always a bit on the edge—and the same with the arts,” he explained. “They don’t have big endowments like churches and universities, and times are precarious, so I’ve made an effort to not have these groups fall through the cracks.”

Snowdon rattled off a list of twelve LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS service organizations besides GMHC that his foundation has funded in the last year, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, GLAAD, Lambda Legal and SAGE, which operates LGBTQ senior centers.

Housing is on Snowdon’s mind, as it’s so expensive in New York. He said SAGE matters to him because “LGBTQ people aging is a huge and growing issue,” and they need a welcoming place to live. The Foundation also supports LGBTQ youth through the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Point Foundation, which provides college scholarships.

Notably, Snowdon makes unrestricted grants for general operating support to GMHC and many other LGBTQ nonprofits, instead of designating a specific program, as many donors do. “I trust the organization’s leaders to know better than I where to spend the monies—especially during times of economic upheaval, like the pandemic, when there is anxiety and lower funding,” he said.

Since the pandemic struck in 2020, major LGBTQ fundraising events in New York City, like AIDS Walk NY, were either canceled or had to go virtual, Snowdon said, and so he’s recently expanded his foundation’s annual operations grant to GMHC to just under $100,000 over three years.

Forty years into his producing career, Snowdon, now 75, is taking stock.

“There are a few shows that I’m exceedingly proud of,” he said, mentioning playwright Jonathan Tolins’s The Last Sunday in June from 2003, an affectionate yet biting tribute to the genre of “gay theater.” “It was a bold and wonderful play, a critical hit, but not a commercial success,” Snowdon said philosophically.

Ten years later, Snowdon went on to produce Tolins’s hit comedy Buyer & Cellar, starring Michael Urie as a struggling actor who takes a job staffing a fake mall in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.

“I hate to pick favorites,” he said, as he surveyed a wall of show posters in his New York apartment. “I’m thinking I lost a bundle on that one—or that’s one I loved, but it didn’t run long.”

One recent endeavor, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which Snowdon helped take to Broadway in 2017, has been heralded as a look at Trump’s America, and nominated for three Tony Awards. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama examines the friendships of several working-class women in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt when their factory jobs go offshore.

“It’s getting so hard to do serious drama—or even musicals,” he said ruefully. “But I’ll continue to support the work of theater artists in the non-profit world, and also the commercial world of Broadway, as I can. I am so blessed to be able to do that.”

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