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Perchance on BP, the actors doth protest too much

April 25, 2012|By Dan Turner

The British, it seems, are not enamored of British Petroleum, even when it shells out big bucks to support the nation's greatest literary treasure.

A group of actors staged their own protest play Monday night before a performance of "The Tempest" at Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, to express their displeasure with a sponsorship deal involving the oil giant. BP is supporting the World Shakespeare Festival, a joint venture between the Royal Shakespeare Co. and the Globe Theatre that is being billed as the biggest Shakespeare festival ever held.

The protest group's website, BP or Not BP?, spells out its grievances: The esteemed Shakespeare companies are allowing BP to use them to "greenwash" its image. BP's partnership is a consummation not to be wished, they assert, because of the company's continuing pursuit of oil in environmentally sensitive places such as the Arctic, its disastrous role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and its involvement in the carbon-intense extraction of oil from Canada's tar sands, among other environmental crimes. "Times are tough. Ay, there's the rub," the protesters proclaim. "But all that glisters (Shakespearean sic) is not gold. And whilst comparisons are odorous, we do well remember the dropping of tobacco companies as sponsors by a host of cultural institutions. The arts continued, and so shall the RSC, freed from the grasp of this smiling damned villain."

The thespians undoubtedly mean well. But it's a bit harsh to criticize BP for pursuing oil around the world when it's in the business of pursuing oil around the world. The difference between oil companies and cigarette companies is that nobody needs to smoke cigarettes, whereas the world economy, and global transportation networks, would collapse if everybody stopped using oil overnight. World governments should obviously be doing more to wean their countries off fossil fuels, and to the extent that BP is preventing that from happening by lobbying against carbon taxes or cap-and-trade programs, it truly is a "damned villain" -- but I haven't seen a lot of evidence that BP is doing that (nor, apparently, have the protesters, since such political interference isn't mentioned in their manifesto).

The world of drama needs heroes and villains. Politics doesn't; the real world isn't so black and white. I come to bury BP, not to praise it -- the company has made a lot of mistakes. But being angry at it just because it's an oil company is a bit daft. Meanwhile, if the Brits don't want BP's filthy money, there are plenty of starving Shakespeare companies here in L.A. that I suspect wouldn't shake a stick at it.


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