Actor Mark Rylance has severed his ties with the RSC over the organisation’s association with sponsor BP.
The RSC has been criticised for accepting sponsorship from the oil company in the past and earlier this month environmental protestors from the group Extinction Rebellion held a demonstration in London against arts organisations that accepted money from BP.
On Friday Mr Rylance announced that he would no longer be one of the RSC’s associate artists, a role he has had for 30 years.
He said: “I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare.”
Responding to Mr Rylance’s announcement, a statement from RSC artistic director Gregory Doran and executive director Catherine Mallyon said: “We are saddened that Mark Rylance has decided he can no longer be one of our Associate Artists, but we respect his decision. We thank him for his long association with the Company.
“Importantly, no sponsor influences or drives our artistic decision making and we are committed to exploring contemporary issues and ideas in all our work. We have a clear donation and sponsorship acceptance policy and consider potential offers of support individually. We recognise the importance of a robust and engaged debate in taking these decisions, especially in the light of the acknowledged environment and climate emergency.
“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our funding, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity. BP’s sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme for 16-25 year olds gives many young people the chance to see our work, and the scheme is highly valued by our audiences. It’s one of the many ways that help us to establish lifetime enthusiasts for Shakespeare and live theatre and applies to all of our productions whether in Stratford, London or on tour around the UK.”
Stratford District Council’s sole Green Party councillor, John Riley, said: “I respect Mr Rylance’s courage in coming to this decision, if he feels uncomfortable about the RSC accepting sponsorship from BP than I can understand that. It’s good to see a non-politician expressing a strong opinion on this and helping to keep the issue of climate change in the public eye.
“I accept though that the RSC are in a difficult position, because arts funding is hard to come by. The RSC are a fantastic asset to Stratford, I don’t know everything about it but it’s worth mentioning that oil companies like BP are involved with developing renewable energy technologies as well as their work with fossil fuels.”