Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir are activists, a New York City-based radical performance community with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands. They are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters, earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities on four continents defending land, life and imagination from reckless development and the extractive imperatives of global capital. They employ multiple tactics and creative strategies, including cash register exorcisms, retail interventions, cell phone operas combined with grass roots organizing and media activism. They are entertainers and artists, performing regularly throughout the US and Europe. Co-sponsored by iEAR Presents!
The Church of Stop Shopping is a radical performance community dedicated to the earth’s recovery, fair and just economies, and the return of free expression to public space. The church pursues these goals through resisting Consumerism and Militarism and the corporations who profit from these systems. Amen!
Here is Reverend Billy’s statement of belief:
“Let’s talk about the Devil. Corporate Commercialism has sped up to a roar, virtually unopposed. Consumerism is normalized in the mind of the average person, sometimes we even refer to ourselves as consumers forgetting that we are also citizens, humans, men, women, animals. We forget that we share many resources, public spaces, libraries, information, history, sidewalks, streets, schools that we created laws and covenants and govenerments to protect us, to support us, to help us… The subjugation of these resources and these laws to the forces of the market demands a response.
We are a post religious church. We hold “services” wherever we can, in concert halls, theaters, churches, community centers, forests, fields, parking lots, mall atriums, and perhaps most importantly, inside stores, as close to the cash register as we can get, within spitting distance of the point of purchase.
We sing, we dance, we preach, sometimes we perform small “interventions”, invisible plays, acts of ritual resistance. We exorcise cash registers and remythologize the retail environment, we illuminate the Devil. We make media and send it out around the world. We get hassled by security guards and sometimes get arrested.
Above all we try to complexify the moment of purchase, to snap people out their hypnosis and back into the mystery of being human. We remind people that things come from somewhere, that products have a resource past, a labor past. Someone made It, and It is made of something, we trace the route a product took to get on the shelf, the life it might have when we throw it away. We animate the objects that surround us and in so doing we re-animate ourselves. We become citizens again.
Liberation is a radiant process, it spreads. We think freedom from consumerism is virulent, contagious. Tell your neighbor you stopped shopping and it gives her permission to do the same. One day we can all live in richly varied and hilarious neighborhoods, with people who seem to have invented themselves, and so are endlessly fascinating, something beyond entertainment. Yes there IS a Life After Shopping!
Remember children… Love is a Gift Economy!”
The church performances in concert halls, as well as the “Retail Interventions” inside super malls and chain stores, are directed by Savitri D. The choir-master is James Solomon Benn.
Since 1999 the Reverend Billy project has expanded from a one-man performance artist preaching against consumerism in Times Square to a 40-person choir and 5-person band with dozens of original songs, a critically acclaimed stage show, a major motion picture and multiple media platforms. Their performance community hails from all over the US and the world. They are all ages, races and sexes. Together they have demonstrated commitment to educating people about ever expanding commercialism and the over-consumption it demands. They maintain that consuming less is a critical, immediate step individuals can take toward halting the climate crisis.
They use theatrical forms to build a surprisingly moving, powerful critique of economic systems and environmental practices and instill a sense of responsibility in their audiences, leading people to simple actions they can take immediately (committing to ride their bike once a week, calling an elected or picking up trash in a local park) and others that require more work and cooperativity (defending a community garden, mobilizing a divestment or a boycott).
They often partner with large NGO’s and advocacy groups, while NGOs negotiate and lobby for policy change they raise the profile of the effort and involve citizens more directly- creating classic inside/outside campaigns. Their successful campaigns of this kind include an effort to stop Victoria’s Secret from using Virgin Boreal Forest for the ubiquitous underwear catalogs. They pressured both the Starbucks Corp and international trade bodies to endorse the appellation of Sidamo, Yirgajefee and Harar coffees in Ethiopia. The new trade marking agreement allows Ethiopian coffee farmers to demand higher prices for their legendary coffees at market. Most recently they joined a number of groups in pressuring JP Morgan Chase to divest from the surface mining practice known as Mountaintop Removal (MTR) in the Appalachian Mountains of the US. (Other examples of their creative campaigns can be found at the website www.revbilly.com). This work is important not just for the achievement of a worthy goal but because each is a model by which other campaigns can be created. They have performed in venues on four continents and on or in literally hundreds of fields, malls, streets, and sidewalks. They have been invited guest artists at more than one hundred institutes of higher learning and 23 primary schools. They have won an Obie Award, a Glickman Award, and the Alpert Award in the Arts. In 2009 Reverend Billy Talen was a candidate for mayor of New York City on the Green Party ticket.
They are avid media makers, with two full length professionally produced CD’s, three documentaries films, including “What Would Jesus Buy?” produced by Morgan Spurlock, which played on 125 screens in the US and European television. An earlier film, “Preacher With an Unknown God” won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Bill Talen has published two books (“What Should I Do If Reverend Billy is In My Store?” and “What Would Jesus Buy?”) with two others forthcoming in the next 18 months. They produced eight 28-minute television shows, “The Last Televangelist,” and broadcast them on cable and community access TV stations across the country. Their post-religious church is the subject of a small revolution on the Internet, where anti-consumerist fans have posted more than a thousand homemade Reverend Billy YouTube films of actions and shows.
They are frequent guests of news media appearing on The Today Show, CBS Evening News, Nightline, Fox News, Al-Jazeera, Glenn Beck, Hannity & Colmes, Democracy Now, NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Marketplace,” Geraldo Rivera, CNN, The Tavis Smiley Show, The BBC World Service, BBC 1 and numerous other local and regional affiliates and International print outlets. Many people across the western world have joined them in resisting Consumerism and its enabling twin, Militarism.
This presentation of Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir is co-sponsored by iEAR Presents! and the Arts Department at Rensselaer, and made possible by volunteer labor and small financial contributions from thousands of patrons of The Sanctuary for Independent Media.
The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts, located in an historic former church at 3361 6th Avenue in North Troy, NY. The Sanctuary hosts screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds.