Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir
This project is an interactive play, an evening-length church service that seems to evolve from comedy to some sort of secular spirituality that downtown New York hipsters embrace. Working in 300-seat theaters with large gospel choirs that sing anti-consumerist lyrics ("Stop Shoppping! Now we can leave the Shopping Malls!"), the Reverend usually works, like a normal church, with a theme at each service. These range from anti-sweatshop concerns, to the neighborhood defense against the economy of tourism, to animal rights.
Reverend Billy is a character inhabited by the author/actor Bill Talen. An invention that resists titles like Performance Artist, Man of God, or Anarchist -- Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping have become popular as none of the above or as all three. Reverend Billy is best known for his Disney and Starbucks store invasions, which also combine the elements of drama, religion and politics. Early on, the Disney store in Times Square was elected as a "charged stage," and Talen has taken some 500 people into the store for "transgressive performances," where actors pose as shoppers and throw "articulate fits" in response to the sweatshop Goofies on the shelves. Starbucks management has become so concerned about the Reverend Billy phenomenon that they have sent out a memo to all NYC cafe managers, educating the hapless employees with a kind of primer, "What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Comes Into My Store?" The memo, turned over to Talen by an employee fired from the "bean cult," is posted on the Church of Stop Shopping website.