In Brief

Protesting BP Sponsorship, Mark Rylance Resigns as Royal Shakespeare Company’s Associate Artist

“We are all together in this crisis and we all must change,” Rylance said in an opinion article published in the Guardian. “I am resigning to lend strength to the voices within the RSC who want to be progressive, and to encourage my fellow associates to express themselves, too.”

Three Matildas in the Mischief Mob lead a revolt against BP. (photo by Ron Fassbender)
Three Matildas in the Mischief Mob lead a revolt against BP. (photo by Ron Fassbender)

British actor, theatre director, and playwright Mark Rylance has resigned as an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) after 30 years, admonishing the company’s ongoing ties to British Petroleum (BP). Rylance, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, was the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, between 1995 and 2005. Today, the Oscar winner announced his decision to leave the RSC in a Guardian opinion article, explaining his need to sever ties with the company that has inspired him since his teenage years, “not because it is any less of a theatre company, but because of the company it keeps.”

A 2012 protest of a BP-sponsored production of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at the Roundhouse in London (photo by David Hoffmann, courtesy of BP or not BP?)

In 2012, when the RSC initiated its partnership with BP, Rylance was among the signees of a letter to the company expressing concern that it was “allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities.”

That year, activist theatre group BP or not BP? launched a series of satirical, performance-based protests, which have continued ever since. This year, the group also led protests at the National Portrait Gallery and British Museum, urging them to sever their financial ties with BP.

The RSC later decided to remove BP’s logos from its plays, but the next year, worked with the oil company to sponsor a reduced ticket program for young adults between 16 and 25. In 2016, the RSC signed a contract to continue the program through 2022.

Rylance urges the company to ends this relationship much sooner, writing:

The RSC is well placed to make a positive statement about the responsibility of cultural organisations to act on the climate crisis. It could turn this situation on its head and give young people much more value than a cheap £5 ticket. It could give them the support of Shakespeare in their stand against our addiction to energy dealers who would willingly destroy us for a quick quid.

He has instead expressed his support for Culture Unstained’s Fossil Free £5 Ticket project, which crowdfunds to finance the reduced admission program.

Rylance said he met with environmentalist Jonathon Porritt to better understand BP’s role in climate change, to which Porritt told him:

Together with other oil majors, BP has been accused of fully understanding the science of climate change as far back as the early 1980s, and downplaying and obscuring that science ever since, always in the short-term interests of its shareholders. Regrettably, its current leadership is stuck in the same pattern — all the time using philanthropy to hide its past and present culpability.

“BP is also a powerful lobbyist,” Rylance writes. “It recently topped the list of firms obstructing climate action around the world and has been successfully lobbying President Trump for access to Arctic oil.”

Performers hold festival against BP outside RSC in June of 2018 (photo by Ron Fassbender Hoffmann, courtesy of BP or not BP?)

In a longer version of the article published by Culture Unstained, Rylance claims that during an annual general meeting of the RSC in 2017, he asked about the sponsorship and was promised that RSC’s Associate Artists would be further involved in the company’s charitable objectives through “private consultation.”

“Hearing nothing, I recently let the RSC know that I feel I must resign as I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesmen or any company or individual who willfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn,” he continues. “Nor do I believe would William Shakespeare.”

“We are all together in this crisis and we all must change. I am resigning to lend strength to the voices within the RSC who want to be progressive, and to encourage my fellow associates to express themselves, too.”

At the time of writing, Hyperallergic has not received a response to its request for comment from the RSC.

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