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Royal Court suspends Sackler-funded trainee scheme over opioid allegations

The Royal Court in London has launched priority booking for under-26s The Royal Court has suspended the operation of its trainee scheme
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The Royal Court has suspended the operation of a trainee scheme funded by the Sackler Trust, amid an increasing controversy over the Sackler family and its alleged links to the US opioid crisis.

This week the trust, which has donated heavily to the arts, announced it is freezing all new UK grants, as a result of the press attention over the lawsuits faced by the Sackler-owned Purdue Pharma, the US company that manufactures the opioid painkiller OxyContin.

London’s Royal Court confirmed it had jointly agreed with the Sackler Trust to pause the ongoing funding agreement for its trainee scheme, which is in the second year of a five-year programme.

An agreement had previously been signed to give the Royal Court £700,000 to fund five trainees every year until 2022.

The Stage understands the initial decision to suspend recruitment for the scheme was taken by the Royal Court last year, and is therefore not in reaction to the news that the Sackler Trust would be halting its UK operations.

A statement from the Royal Court said: “At the end of 2018, in light of the situation regarding Purdue Pharma in the US, the Royal Court Theatre had postponed recruiting the second cohort of trainees while they continued to actively monitor and engage with the developments. Both parties have now formalised this suspension.”

The theatre gave no indication as to whether the scheme – which provides year-long placements in departments across the organisation – would continue.

In addition to the Royal Court’s grant, the Sackler Trust has given millions of pounds to British arts institutions including the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, the V&A and the Royal Opera House.

Announcing its intention to pause new philanthropic giving, the Sackler Trust’s chair, Theresa Sackler, said in a statement on behalf of trustees that existing commitments would be honoured but she felt that “at this moment it is the better course for the trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants”.

Last week, the National Portrait Gallery announced it would not be accepting a pledged grant from the Sackler Trust as a result of the ongoing situation with Purdue Pharma. The Tate said it would not take any further money from the Sackler Trust in future.

Editor’s View: Theatres must negotiate the murky waters of arts sponsorship with caution

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