‘Out damn logo!’ A week of oil-sponsorship controversy in the theatre world

2 Jul 2012 admin

Photo: David Hoffman
Phew! There’s been so much going on this last week in terms of various interventions and speaking out on the controversial subject of BP sponsorship that at times it’s been hard to keep up. Here’s handy timeline to help keep people in the loop.

Things had already been simmering away following renowned actor Mark Rylance speaking on Radio 4 on the Wednesday 20th of June about his discomfort about BP’s involvement in sponsoring the Olympics – we already blogged about what Mark had to say here.

A week later, while the audience were settling into their seats at the Camden Roundhouse for the BP-sponsored Comedy of Errors as part of the Cultural Olympiad, members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company took to the stage for a bit of unsolicited iambic pentameter on the two faces of BP – the wholesome patron of the arts, and the devastator of communities and the environment. You can watch the clip below.

Not content to rest on their thespian laurels, the following night at the Riverside Playhouse, performance poet Pete the Temp got up on stage for a ‘guerrilla soliloquy’ before the Iraqi Theatre Company performed Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad. In the soliloquy he accused the World Shakespeare Festival of “hypocrisy for staging a play by the Iraqi Theatre Company – thus presenting themselves as a friend and supporter of Iraqi culture – whilst accepting sponsorship money from an oil company who actively lobbied for, and profited from, the military invasion of Iraq in 2003.” 

Platform got a little shout out as part of this performance as Pete later acknowledged the influence of Fuel on the Fire, a book about oil companies and the invasion of Iraq that was written by Greg Muttitt, based on the research he had carried out during his eight years with us. You can watch the soliloquy in action below.

On the same day, a post appeared in the Guardian theatre blog, provocatively entitled Oi, sponsors, leave our stage alone that brought together a number of sources (including us!) on the tricky relation between money, art and the demands of funders.

And then to top it all off, Mark Rylance spoke again on the issue of BP sponsorship on BBC1’s Marr Show on Sunday morning. On being asked if we was comfortable with the corporate sponsorship of the Olympics, Rylance replied:

I think its a great pity that the corporations are able to buy such a big platform for themselves and present themselves as in the case of BP as part of team England. They may have worked here for a hundred years, but they are a part of the board of that organisation and all they’re interested in is making money at the cost of indigenous people and at the cost of the environment. So why they should be able to present themselves as somehow the host of these games to the rest of the world and to us, I think it's not right. So I think it's time that some better lines were drawn, after all a tobacco company would not be accepted as a sponsor for the Olympics, I don't think. Hopefully an arms company wouldn't be accepted. So I think a proper discussion about where that ethical line is, as it does exist, in relation to the environment and in the relation to obesity in the case of McDonalds.

Despite the fact that Rylance has previously expressed concerns about being perceived to be a “nay sayer”, the response on twitter was almost entirely positive. @Cafflux wrote that it was “it was refreshing to hear Mark Rylance offering calm and clear observations about sponsorship at the Olympics” while @JessicaDuchen, one of the Independent’s art correspondents wrote “Mark Rylance impressive on ethics & sponsorship re fast food & Olympics. Methinks this will be growth area for scrutiny in the arts.” You can see the clip of Mark talking on the Marr Show below.

With so much happening on the issue, how can the momentum be maintained? On Saturday, art-interventionists Liberate Tate are planning a mystery performance in Central London and are inviting people to take part. You can see their rather leftfield mobilization video parodying a Tom Waits track below, and sign up to receive text messages about the event on their website here.

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