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Oil campaigners set for theatrical protest

The RSC has announced the closure of all its venues this evening, Monday, March 16
The RSC has announced the closure of all its venues this evening, Monday, March 16

A LONG-RUNNING protest against the Royal Shakespeare Company’s sponsorship deal with oil company BP is to be stepped up with a day of ‘guerrilla theatre, disobedient poetry and rebellious music’ in Stratford.

Activist theatre group BP or not BP has said this week that performers and supporters will descend on the town on Saturday, 16th June. It is the first time members have held a protest of this scale since they formed in 2012. But more significantly, it will be the first time they have publicly announced their intention to be in Stratford, as they continue their opposition to the RSC’s controversial relationship with the oil giant, which sponsors subsidised tickets for young people.

It has been planned to coincide with the RSC’s own Mischief Festival, which this year features two plays that explore global questions of truth, corruption and freedom. Members say they do not intend to disrupt or interfere with the RSC’s own performances that day, and also say they do not expect to be moved on.

They say the performances will take place near to RSC venues, and will be ‘lively and cheeky’, adding ‘others will have a more solemn tone to reflect the reality of BP’s operations.’ The day will also incorporate the group’s 50th rebel performance that it has staged over the last six years as part of its efforts to end what it describes as the ‘fossil fuel funding of the arts’.

They are even offering free transport for supporters from London and Oxford. Previous protests have included unannounced stage invasions by its so-called ‘ethical performers’, the most recent in Stratford being ahead of a performance of Antony and Cleopatra last May. Danny Chivers, from BP or not BP, said: “This is certainly the first time we’ve made a public announcement about what we’re planning, but there will still be an element of surprise.

“The RSC is a champion of free speech so it would be strange if they did anything to move us on, we certainly don’t anticipate that. “They 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.”

Mr Chivers claims the group has had some success in its campaign, claiming the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival recently ended their long-standing sponsorship agreement with BP. He added: “We also know that young people themselves are now saying that they do not want to have these tickets subsidised by a company that is ruining their future prospects on this planet, and that there is growing discontent among RSC staff, actors and directors.”

The RSC’s own Mischief Festival runs from 31st May to 23rd June at The Other Place. One of the featured plays tells the story of Turkish journalist Can Dündar’s commitment to expose illegal government activity in the face of huge personal risk, and the other is in response to the 2014 forced disappearance of 43 male students in Mexico, which became the biggest political and public security scandal of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s time in office.

The RSC made a £4million profit last year, boosted again by the ongoing success of Matilda The Musical. 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 upcoming 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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