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Extinction Rebellion stages mass protest at BP-sponsored Royal Opera House screening

Extinction rebellion protesters at the ROH screening in Trafalgar Square. Photo: Joe Twigg Extinction rebellion protesters at the ROH screening in Trafalgar Square. Photo: Joe Twigg
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Climate change protestors have staged a mass demonstration at a Royal Opera House open-air screening in Trafalgar Square, calling on it to drop BP as the event’s sponsor.

Campaigners from Extinction Rebellion descended on the big-screen event, which live-streamed a Royal Ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet for free on June 11.

BP has sponsored the free screenings for more than a decade and has a 30-year relationship with the Opera House, which has come under fire from climate change campaigners for accepting money from the oil and gas giant because of its “devastating impact on the natural world”.

The ROH argues that corporate sponsorship from companies such as BP enables more people to experience its work by providing free cultural events that are accessible for those who may not otherwise engage with ROH shows.

Before the evening screening on June 11, protestors held banners around the audience calling on the Opera House to end its sponsorship deal with BP, while nearby campaigners staged music, circus and theatre performances including Petroleo and Fueliet – an edited take on the Shakespeare tragedy that was being shown on the night.

The Lambeth branch of Extinction Rebellion has also written to the ROH’s trustees, asking them to sever ties with BP.

They said: “The national acclaim of the Royal Opera House, its integrity and values are transferred by association to the BP brand. They know this leads to a sympathetic public attitude towards their business and weakens the pressure on them to change.

“That sympathy undermines everyone now standing to confront the climate crisis; everyone trying to hold BP to account for the damage they are doing. The emergency is now, and it is your emergency too. It is time for the Royal Opera House to join the right side of this.”

Campaigners from fellow climate change group Culture Unstained have also written to London mayor Sadiq Khan, requesting that he withdraw permission for BP’s branding of the annual Trafalgar Square big-screen event.

Its letter was signed by more than 200 musicians.

The ROH is one of several major arts institutions that accepts sponsorship money from fossil fuel companies. They have come under increasing pressure in recent years, following the decisions of Tate and the Edinburgh International Festival to end their BP sponsorship deals in 2016.

Later that year, the ROH, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum agreed new five-year deals with BP to continue sponsoring initiatives such as the BP Big Screens and the RSC’s £5 tickets scheme.

Andrew Garfield backs ‘ethical’ alternative to RSC’s £5 tickets sponsored by BP

This week, the National Portrait Gallery has faced calls by prominent artists to stop BP sponsoring its annual portrait award.

A spokeswoman from the ROH said the organisation supports the right to peaceful protest, and had worked with the Metropolitan Police to ensure the safety of audiences at the event.

“BP’s support for the Royal Opera House Big Screens has enabled almost one million people, from Aberdeen to the Isle of Wight, to enjoy world-class culture for free. Families, students, friends and colleagues gather each summer together to experience a ‘night at the opera’ or ‘night at the ballet’ thanks to BP’s long-standing commitment to the arts. Each year this partnership enables the Royal Opera House to provide free culture to communities up and down the country who otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience our art forms,” she said.

A statement from BP added that it had supported UK arts and culture for over 50 years.

“In the years since we’ve been supporting the arts, more than 50 million people have enjoyed BP sponsored activities and programmes. We respect individuals’ right to peaceful protest,” it said.

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