Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) artistic director Gregory Doran has come under fire once more for his group’s association with much-maligned energy firm BP.
In the past few days, protest group the Reclaim Shakespeare Company – a clan of disenchanted actors which uses the snappy slogan “BP or not BP” – staged its seventh protest against the oil giant’s sponsorship of the theatrical institution, crashing the stage at Shakespeare’s hometown Stratford-on-Avon to act out a short, Twelfth Night-themed guerrilla play prior to a scheduled performance of the Bard’s own version.
In their sketch, the actor-protestors lambasted what they regard as an “ugly friendship” between the organisations.
While previous Reclaim protests have gone unhindered – with the RSC even stating that it would allow them to take place – this time one staff member tried to shout down the angry actors, saying that it was dangerous for them to perform because of an area of open water in the stage set.
BP has undertaken a series of arts and sports-based sponsorships, including the London Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad, in a bid to reconnect with the public and improve its image in the wake of the unmitigated environmental and PR disaster that unfolded from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which affected swathes of marine and coastal areas in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The RSC has been one of the highest-profile beneficiaries of BP’s makeover.
However, many within and outside the theatrical trade feel strongly that such a proud and potent symbol of the UK’s cultural heritage should not be associated with – in the words of one Reclaim activist – “companies that are ruining our planet for profit”. But the partnership merely serves to indicate the often-uneasy relationship that exists between the arts and the harsh realities of business.
The RSC has reportedly agonised over accepting BP’s cash, but ultimately it has to find its operation funds from somewhere. Doran now faces a pivotal decision of whether to ditch BP and locate alternative sources of finance – if indeed there are any – or resist the protests and keep the show on the road. It remains to be seen how much longer the RSC will be able to withstand the current negative publicity they are attracting; indeed, BP may eventually decide that the hubbub over the protests has proven counterproductive, and jump before it is pushed.