The RSC’s BP sponsorship under fire from student protest!

Inspired by ‘BP or not BP?’ and our theatrical protests, student Matthew Walpole headed to Stratford-Upon-Avon last week to protest BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) discount scheme for 16-25 year olds – “The RSC Key“. Here’s a guest blog from Matthew about his theatrical intervention and why he did it…

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“Last Saturday, I marched to the RSC Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon and sat outside the entrance for several hours with a protest sign, handing out information, and talking to theatregoers. My purpose? To raise awareness about BP’s sponsorship of the RSC, and how it works to cleanse BP’s tarnished image, making them seem like a responsible and ‘culturally-friendly’ corporation – when, of course, nothing could be further from the truth!

During the interval of that day’s performance, a production of Hamlet, I entered the foyer and performed my own take on the play’s famous speech – in this case, ‘BP or not BP? That is the question!’ (Full text below.) It highlighted BP’s contribution to catastrophic climate change and urged audience members to let the RSC know how they feel about this oily partnership.

I believe it is of URGENT IMPORTANCE that we work to get BP out of big cultural institutions like the RSC. It is important that our great arts institutions are well funded but the trickle of money they receive from BP is not the crucial funding the oil company makes it out to be. It is crucial that we, as a global public, start coming to terms with the extent of both the short and the long-term violence that the big oil companies have been knowingly practicing for so many years – if we are to curb runaway climate change, we have to take on the fossil fuel companies as a unified people.

I find the BP’s current sponsorship of the RSC particularly unpleasant as it targets young people, giving 16-25 year olds money off tickets. The deal promotes the oil giant to the emerging generation, the ones who will be most impacted by the effects of climate change in the future.

I found my experience outside the RSC encouraging: I was generally well-received (including by some members of RSC staff), and my performance sparked some good conversations.

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While protests like mine may appear small, it was the accumulated performance protests of groups such as the ‘BP or not BP?’ theatre company, the Liberate Tate artist collective and the Art Not Oil coalition that finally got the Tate and then Edinburgh International Festival to cut ties with BP. This is a great start, but there is still more work to be done – and fast – if we’re to shift to a fossil free culture!

PLEASE join the campaign against oil sponsorship of the arts by writing to the RSC (or by protesting in whatever way you prefer!) to let them know that we, its audiences, are disgusted by their partnership with BP, and to demand that they immediately cut off all ties with this most dangerous and irresponsible of companies…

Also see http://www.artnotoil.org.uk/institutions for a list of key institutions which accept oily money.”

BP or not BP, that is the question –
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The filthy money of an outrageous sponsor
Or to take up arms against this badge of troubles
And by opposing, end them.
To die[vest], to [sweep clean]
No more! And by sweep clean we say to end
This shameful partnership — investing in the arts
To rinse their name – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d: to divest, to sweep clean.
For in ridding Shakespeare of this stain what clean culture may come:
When we’ve shuffled off this mortal oil
Must give us cause: there’s the respect
that makes calamity of such a sponsor;
For who would bear for the oil spills, the mass floods,
The impending global food deficit and mass starvation,
The rising sea levels, widespread disease, acidifying oceans
Manslaughter, and, in short, for the continued destruction
Of our planet, and of decent and habitable living conditions for our children,
To be knowingly hid behind our poets’ face
When we ourselves might his quietus make
with a bare protest?


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