BP sponsorship of Shakespeare criticised by actors, directors and playwrights

Tomorrow – April 23rd – is both Shakespeare’s birthday and the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival. To mark the occasion, a group of actors, directors, academics and others from the theatre and arts community will publish a letter in the Guardian criticising the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) over its decision to accept sponsorship money from BP.

The RSC is the latest cultural institution to face criticsm for allowing BP to use corporate sponsorship to boost its flailing public image. The Tate has also come under sustained fire for its ongoing sponsorship relationship with BP.

The letter, which was co-ordinated by the UK Tar Sands Network,  is signed by 29 theatre and arts professionals, including: Mark Rylance, former Creative Director of the RSC; award-winning playwrights Caryl Churchill*, Moira Buffini and Van Badham; and actor James Bolam.

BP, they argue, should not be allowed to associate itself with cherished cultural institutions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the oil company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands in Canada.

The letter comes after a week of high-profile criticism of BP’s role as London 2012 ‘Sustainability Partner’. The company’s financial support for the World Shakespeare Festival, and a trilogy of plays at the RSC, is part of a massive Olympics sponsorship push, which BP hopes will ‘build its brand’ and improve its sullied reputation.

It comes at a time of government cuts to arts funding that are forcing theatre companies to forge closer and more prominent links with corporate sponsors. But, as the signatories point out, these relationships can be dangerous. In this case, the RSC is ‘allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities with a veneer of respectability.’


Full text of the letter and signatories


Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, and marks the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival. Yet what should be an unabashed celebration of Shakespeare’s continued relevance to our world has been sullied by the fact that the festival is sponsored by BP.

While the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill continues to devastate ecosystems and communities, and the highly-polluting extraction of tar sands oil brings us rapidly closer to the point of no return from climate change, we feel that BP has no place in arts sponsorship.

We, as individuals involved in theatre and the arts, are deeply concerned that the RSC – like other much-cherished cultural institutions – is allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities with a veneer of respectability.

We would like to see an end to oil sponsorship of the arts, and are committed to finding more responsible ways to finance this country’s cultural life, for our own and future generations.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Rylance, Actor, Writer and Playwright
Caryl Churchill, Playwright*
Moira Buffini, Playwright
Van Badham, Playwright
Jo Tyabji, Director and Actor
Rod Dixon, Red Ladder Theatre Company
James Bolam, Actor
Sue Jameson, Actress
Lisa Wesley, Artist and Theatre Maker
Arabella Lawson, Actress
Harry Giles, Environment Officer, Festivals Edinburgh
Professor Stephen Bottoms, Chair of Drama and Theatre Studies and Director of the Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds
Andy Field, Co-Director, Forest Fringe
Daniel Balla, Producer for Gaia Theatre Collective, Director for Coexists Events Space
Tom Worth, Producer of The Globe’s ‘Hamlet on Tour’ documentary
Lucy Jameson,Gaia Theatre
Simon Lys, Gaia Theatre
Leo-Marcus Wan, Actor
Tim Jeeves, Artist and Writer
Phil Maxwell, Director,
Hazuan Hasheem, Director,
Sue Palmer, Contemporary performance maker and artist
Stephen Duncombe, Associate Professor, New York University, Gallatin School of Media, Culture & Communications, Center For Artistic Activism,
Kenny Young, Songwriter, Musician, Founder of Artists Project Earth
Ana Betancour, Professor, Architect, Artist
John Volynchook, Photographer
Leila Galloway, Artist and Senior Lecturer
Dr Wallace Heim, Academic and former set designer
Tracey Dunn, film maker and community tv broadcaster

* Caryl Churchill signed on rather late in the day so missed the Guardian print deadline.

One Response to “BP sponsorship of Shakespeare criticised by actors, directors and playwrights”

  1. teresa williamson says:

    I think it is wonderful that actors, directors, playrights and others are making a stand against the Global Economic Obscenity that is BP. The Global conglomerates destroy, decimate, dupe, deny, disenfranchise, denegrate, degrade people and their countries then, dust themselves down and justify, ‘SHAME ON YOU BP’

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