THE PROTEST against oil giant BP’s sponsorship of the RSC was stepped up this week.
Stage and screen stars have backed the launch of an alternative cheap ticket scheme for young people. The so-called Fossil Free scheme will offer the same £5 tickets to 16 to 25 year-olds, but with the assurance they come from an ethical source.
Organisers behind the Fossil Free tickets hope to show the RSC many of its own artists and its audience are against BP sponsorship and would prefer to support a positive alternative.
More than 30 leading figures in the theatre world have backed the campaign, including Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Kristin Scott Thomas, Zoë Wanamaker, and Miriam Margolyes.
Mark Rylance and Jasper Britton, who are both RSC associate artists, have both added their names to the growing list of stage luminaries.
Set up by Culture Unstained – and not officially endorsed by the RSC – tickets will be purely crowdfunded, with ten per cent of donations going towards grassroots groups working in communities in the USA and Papa New Guinea which have been affected by BP’s working practices.
Kirsty Housley – who is currently directing Myth at the Other Place in Stratford as part of Mischief Festival – is among those critical of BP’s sponsorship.
She said: “By putting their brand on arts organisations that people rightfully love and care deeply about, BP are buying a level of social acceptability that they simply shouldn’t have at this stage in the game.
“They are one of the biggest blockers of climate legislation in Europe, they’re one of the biggest polluters on the planet. They’re not neutral, and we’re at such a point with climate change that partnering with such companies feels deeply problematic to me.”
Last July, the RSC signed a five year contract with BP, due to start in 2018. The announcement was met by condemnation from more than 200 figures, including scientists, academics, politicians, climate campaigners and representatives of communities affected by BP’s activities.
Protesters have taken to the RSC stage on a number of occasions as part of their on-going campaign against BP’s sponsorship.
RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon defended BP’s sponsorship.
She told The Observer: “BP’s sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme continues to give 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. Since 2013, we have sold over 62,000 tickets thanks to BP’s support.
“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our diverse funding mix, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity.
“We support people’s right to protest. None of our sponsors drive our artistic decision making, and we remain committed to exploring contemporary issues and ideas in all our work, including Kirsty Housley’s current play Myth which explores climate change.”Many arts organisations have now parted company with BP and Shell, the UK’s most prolific oil sponsors – including the Tate, the Edinburgh International Festival, and the London Symphony Orchestra. Others – such as the Royal Court – have ethical fundraising policies in place preventing them from ever taking money from fossil fuel companies, and have signed up to the Oil Sponsorship Free commitment.