Royal Shakespeare Company Drops BP Sponsorship After Climate Protests

The decision comes as activists promise the ‘biggest protest yet’ at the British Museum over oil funding

Coal, Oil and Fracking prepare to square off against their renewable opponents at a BP or Not BP? protest. Courtesy: BP or Not BP?; photograph: Ron Fassbender

Coal, Oil and Fracking prepare to square off against their renewable opponents at a BP or Not BP? protest. Courtesy: BP or Not BP?; photograph: Ron Fassbender

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has concluded its partnership with oil company BP, following a series of high-profile climate protests. The oil giant has sponsored a reduced-rate GB£5 ticket scheme for 16–25-year olds since 2013.

In a statement, the theatre company’s artistic director Gregory Doran and executive director Catherine Mallyon said: ‘Amidst the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message.’

The statement goes on to announce the RSC’s decision to conclude its partnership with BP at the end of this year. ‘There are many fine balances and complex issues involved and the decision has not been taken lightly or swiftly,’ Doran and Mallyon wrote. ‘We would like to thank BP for their generous support of the RSC since 2011. We have issued 80,000 tickets to young people who have been able to experience our work through the BP sponsored scheme.’

Last week, school climate strikers threatened to boycott RSC productions if they failed to drop BP as a sponsor. Speaking to frieze, a 16-year-old organizer said: ‘We want to go the theatre, we want to go have affordable tickets to see Shakespeare’s plays, but we don’t want to support an oil company just so we can see a play.’

Earlier this year leading Shakespearian actor Sir Mark Rylance resigned from his position as associate artist in the company in protest against the theatre company’s sponsorship deal. Meanwhile over 60,000 people have signed a petition calling on the RSC and other major cultural organizations to cut ties with the oil giant.

BP have responded to the RSC decision, saying they are ‘disappointed at dismayed’ at the decision. ‘Ironically, the increasing polarisation of debate, and attempts to exclude companies committed to making real progress, is exactly what is not needed. This global challenge needs everyone – companies, governments and individuals – to work together to achieve a low carbon future,’ the statement read.

The news comes as climate activists announced a large-scale protest to coincide with the BP-sponsored Troy exhibition at London’s British Museum. Pressure group BP or not BP? will stage a protest ‘re-enacting the Siege of Troy’ to protest continued BP sponsorship of exhibitions at the British Museum.

The British Museum’s ‘Troy: myth and reality’ opens on 21 November, and the protest is scheduled to take place on 23 November – the show’s opening weekend. BP or Not BP? are hoping to build a replica Trojan Horse as part of the protest, to draw attention to the perceived hypocrisy of the museum’s operations. In July 2019 BP and Turkey’s state-owned oil company finished building the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, a gas line that passes just 75 miles from the site of ancient Troy.

Sarah Horne of BP or Not BP? said: ‘It’s deeply ironic that BP is sponsoring an exhibition called Troy: Myth and Reality, because this sponsorship deal is essentially a Trojan Horse for BP’s real activities. Just like in the myth, BP pretends that it’s giving us a gift, when in reality it’s trying to smuggle its deadly climate-wrecking business plans past our defenses.’

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