Protesters ask 'BP or not BP?' in Royal Shakespeare TheatreDate: 24 April 2012
Audience members at the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Tempest in Stratford-Upon-Avon last night got an unexpected warm-up act in the shape of two environmental protesters.
Five minutes before curtain up in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Richard Howlett and Miranda Shaw jumped on the stage dressed in Shakespearean garb and delivered a speech about BP, sponsors of the RSC's What Country Friends is This? trilogy and the World Shakespeare Festival.
Howlett and Shaw, from the 'Reclaim Shakespeare Company', spoke for roughly two minutes about BP's attempts to "distract attention" away from their environmental record - including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster - through cultural sponsorship.
The speech culminated with them ripping the BP logo from their programmes and inviting members of the audience to do the same. "Several followed our lead," Richard Howlett told Whatsonstage.com, "and lots of people were clapping and cheering at the end".
The stunt marked the public launch of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company’s website and manifesto, entitled “BP or not BP?”. It comes on the same day as a letter was published in the Guardian from a group of theatre and arts professionals, including Mark Rylance, criticising the RSC for “allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities with a veneer of respectability.”
In response, the RSC released a statement saying: "We rely on commercial sponsorship, as well as donations, ticket sales and commercial trading, alongside our public funding from the Arts Council, to be able to deliver an ambitious artistic and educational programme to current and new audiences every year. BP has been a great supporter of the arts for many years and already works with some of the UK’s leading cultural organisations."
RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said that elements of World Shakespeare Festival would "not be possible" without funds from the oil giant. "We consider potential partners very carefully and have taken this decision with the backing of our Board."
"Protests happen because people want their voices heard", he said. "Since Shakespeare’s day, live theatre has always been a place for actors, directors and writers to speak out. From our earliest beginnings in the 1960s, we have encouraged open and creative expressing amongst our artists, and I’m proud the RSC has been a place of experiment and occasional controversy."