Mark Rylance has resigned as an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company because of its continued sponsorship by fossil-fuel giant BP.
The actor has been connected with the Stratford-upon-Avon company for 30 years, but criticised its ongoing corporate relationship with BP, a company whose impact he says “wilfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn”.
BP sponsors the RSC’s £5 tickets scheme for 16 to 25-year-olds, as part of a deal that the company renewed for a further five years in 2016.
A joint statement from the RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran and chief executive Catherine Mallyon said it was “saddened” at Rylance’s decision.
In a piece published simultaneously by the Guardian and by campaign group Culture Unstained, Rylance argued: “We are all together in this crisis and we must all change.”
He said he had raised the BP issue with the RSC, an exchange which had ultimately led to his decision to resign.
Rylance said: “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 salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare.”
Rylance has been a longstanding critic of the arts sector’s sponsorship by oil and gas companies, regularly lending his name to campaigns calling on organisations to relinquish their oil sponsorship.
In 2016, he said he would no longer act at the RSC while it continued to take BP money, however his latest move has severed all ties with the organisation.
He continued: “The RSC will continue pushing BP’s brand on to a generation of young people who have – in huge numbers through the ongoing school strikes – told adults they need to step up their response to the climate crisis now. Surely the RSC wants to be on the side of the world-changing kids, not the world-killing companies?”
Rylance also said he hoped his resignation would “lend strength to the voices within the RSC who want to be progressive, and to encourage my fellow associates to express themselves too”.
Despite his long-standing connection to the RSC, Rylance has not performed there since 1989.
Doran and Mallyon’s statement thanked Rylance for his long association with the company, and argued that no sponsor “influences or drives our artistic decision making” and highlighted its “clear donation and sponsorship acceptance policy”.
“We recognise the importance of a robust and engaged debate in taking these decisions, especially in the light of the acknowledged environment and climate emergency.
“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our funding, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity. BP’s sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme for 16 to 25-year-olds gives many young people the chance to see our work, and the scheme is highly valued by our audiences,” they said.
Earlier this month, hundreds of climate change protestors staged a demonstration at an open-air screening of the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, an event series run by the Royal Opera House and sponsored by BP.