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BP responds to arts funding criticism

Manolo Colonic of BP or not BP? made his point outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Photo: Mark Williamson (R39/6/18/9665)
Manolo Colonic of BP or not BP? made his point outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Photo: Mark Williamson (R39/6/18/9665)

OIL company BP said it is 'proud' to support the arts after the Royal Shakespeare Company came under fresh criticism over the sponsorship agreement between the two.

A day of ‘guerrilla theatre’ last weekend ended with an anti-BP message being projected onto the side of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Theatre activist group BP or not BP? had staged ten anti-fossil fuel performances across five hours outside the theatre in Stratford on Saturday, 16th June, as it continued its campaign against the company’s funding of cut-price tickets for young people to RSC shows.

And when darkness fell, a series of phrases were projected onto the outside of the theatre including ‘BP also sponsors: climate change’ and ‘Out, damned logo!’.

Some members of the group also held what they described as a ‘musical invasion and flashmob performance’ of songs from Matilda the Musical. Outside, Caliban from The Tempest summoned a dancing storm – with the help of the audience – to defeat BP, and there was a wrestling match by the RenewRebels clown troupe, with Oil, Coal and Fracking pitted against Tidal, Wind and Solar Power.

The group’s 50th ‘creative protest’ since forming in 2012 — was held to coincide with the RSC’s own Mischief Festival, which features two plays centred around freedom of speech.

Almost 1,000 flyers were distributed to theatre-goers and the public, the majority of whom were supportive of the protest, claimed BP or not BP?

The group wants to end what leaders describe as the ‘fossil fuel funding of the arts’.

In a statement, the oil company said: "BP are proud to have supported UK arts and culture for over 50 years.

"Our long-term support enables our partners to plan engaging, educational and powerful exhibitions and performances.

"In the years since we’ve been supporting the arts over 50 million people have enjoyed BP sponsored activities and programmes.

"Our support of RSC’s £5 ticket scheme encourages young people to attend performances which they might not otherwise have access to."

Danny Chivers, from BP or not BP?, said: "The RSC argue they need the money to fund these tickets, but they have been making significant profits, which has included millions of pounds from Matilda for a number of years, and we say some of that could be used for the young people’s tickets rather than taking BP’s money.

“We had lots of interest from RSC audiences and the general public on Saturday, coming over to see what’s going on, the day was a success.”

Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director, said: “We believe in people’s right to protest peacefully and in everyone’s right to free speech – both themes explored in our Mischief Festival at The Other Place.

“BP’s sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme for 16-25-year-olds gives many young people the chance to see our work.

“The scheme is highly valued by our audiences and helps us establish lifetime enthusiasts for Shakespeare and live theatre.

“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our diverse funding mix, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity.

“We have a clear donation and sponsorship acceptance policy, and consider potential offers of support individually.

“Importantly, no sponsor influences or drives our artistic decision making and we remain committed to exploring contemporary issues and ideas in all our work.

“Our donation and sponsorship acceptance policy can be viewed at www.rsc.org.uk/legal/donation-and-sponsorship-acceptance-policy”

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