Reverend Billy and Savitri D at the Mladi levi festival
Stara mestna elektrarna, Ljubljana
WED, 8 August 2021 at 9 pm
21–24 August 2012
Glej theatre, Ljubljana
FRI, 24 August 2012 at 4pm
Starting point: Novi trg square fountain, Ljubljana
FRI, 24 August 2012 at 7.30 pm
Glej theatre, Ljubljana
“Why do I shout? Why do I preach? Because I think I hear something. As you listen to me, I hear a shout in you. Oh, let me preach. Let’s stand up! Let’s shout like we do when we are loving, like we do at a peace rally, like we shout in a church when the spirit tells us to give it up. Amen? We’re safe from shopping now. How quickly our shouting becomes a kind of singing that gives the product nothing to say!”
Reverend Billy was born in the late 90s on a sidewalk in New York’s Time Square out of an impelling need to speak up against consumerist frenzy and the dysfunctional, sad and inhumane society that was growing around it. A waiter’s white jacket, a cardboard collar and a bleached, Elvis-like hairdo were enough for actor and playwright Bill Talen to give life to the street-corner persona called Reverend Billy.
He then became a visionary, a solo pseudo-evangelist who passionately urged people to stay away from “consumer narcosis” and “affluenza”, warning against the “shopocalypse”, the vast collective drift towards personal anxiety, worker exploitation, environmental collapse and the destruction on a human-scale of the social fabric.
Soon, what might have looked like yet another end-of-the-century eccentricity started revealing itself for what it really was: a crazy adventure into the sacred space of shopping and a contagious call to action. Reverend Billy was then joined by other activists, and together, they mutated the preacher’s antics into a virus aimed at collapsing the fake allure of brands. Malls and franchise stores were turned into an invisible, undeclared stage for a “fictional” folk hero to engage a fight with a bigger consensual fiction, the credit-card reality of the incessant economic growth. It was the turn of the millennium and The Church of Stop Shopping was born.
By the time director Savitri D joined the Church, the mainstream and commercial media were already starting to pay attention to Rev. Billy, probably in consideration of the wave of creative activism that was fueling resistance to top-down globalization all over the world. At that point, the Reverend could have started a successful parody-based career, but that never happened.
Reality was getting more and more compelling: the September 11 attacks on the US, the growing delocalization of production and the implosion of the national economy in the early 2000s, the collapse of credit and financial markets, the unrestricted exploitation of the environment and the ever-growing evidence of a global climate change. “Lift your hand from the product,” as Rev. Billy used to chant in his sermons, was not an imploration anymore, but a fact.
While Reverend Billy was entering the mass media stage through, astonishingly, the unlikely doors of Fox News, CNN Money and even right-wing talk shows, the Church – now called “The Church of Life After Shopping” – was starting to reach new corners of a country going through a deep crisis of self-confidence. Up till then, Reverend Billy had preached to the converted, gathering a family of fellow activists, genius part-time musicians, amateur choir singers and creative subversion lovers. But now, grassroots janitors’ unions, Christian groups, radical environmentalist bikers and even unemployed housewives were knocking at the door of the Church…or rather…filling Rev. Billy’s email box.
From then on, a vertiginous new phase of the Reverend Billy Project started, beginning with 2007’s “What Would Jesus Buy”, an internationally applauded movie produced by Morgan Spurlock and directed by Rob Van Alkemade, who told the story of the Church as a long, crazy road tour into the heart of disillusioned consumerist America. In 2009, Reverend Billy officially ran for mayor of New York, and though he was never a serious threat to the multi-millionaire candidate Michael Bloomberg, the campaign was no fiction and it actually lay the ground for new collaborations with NY State-based groups of citizens concerned with the collective issues of environmental exploitaton and the banks’ backing of unethical commercial activities.
In 2011, Billy, Savitri D and the Church whole-heartedly embraced the growing “Occupy” movement and have still not stopped continuing to organize, perform, teach, get people involved and produce their own media (such as the overwhelming videocast “Reverend Billy’s Freakstorm”, whose installments are available on the Church’s website), while at the same time opening up a dialogue about what the Church is doing and discussing it in public.
As Alisa Solomon wrote, “Reverend Billy snatches pleasure from rampant consumerism – and indeed, recalls the loneliness and passivity one experiences when her life revolves around a series of advertisers-manipulated purchases – and reclaims it for the live, communal satisfactions of theater and action. This church’s pious practice is not one of abstinence and self-abnegation, but of agency.”
Reverend Billy Talen and Savitri D. are co-leaders of the Church of Life After Shopping, designers of the performances and campaigns, co-authors of the book Shopocalypse Now! and co-producers of the TV shows and films used in their audio-visual presentations. The “church” is a performance community centered in New York City, with a history of touring in Europe, Africa and South America. Savitri D is director of the Life After Shopping performances, both on theater stages and out in contested spaces. She is co-producer of the 2007 film What Would Jesus Buy?
Reverend Billy has taken part since the beginning in the Occupy Wall Street/We are the 99% movementBilly has visited -or invented- several Occupy in the US territory: Occupy Broadway, Occupy Iowa, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy Detroit, or Occupy Christmas.
In 2009 Reverend Billy Talen was a candidate for mayor of New York City on the Green Party ticket.
An examination of the commercialization of Christmas in America while following Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse (the end of humankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt.) The film also delves into issues such as the role sweatshops play in America’s mass consumerism and Big-Box Culture. From the humble beginnings of preaching at his portable pulpit on New York City subways, to having a congregation of thousands – Bill Talen (aka Rev. Billy) has become the leader of not just a church, but a national movement.
In the framework of Akcija!, a cycle of screening events
WORKSHOP AND PUBLIC INTERVENTION
Reverend Billy and Savitri D lead a workshop on new culture jamming and activist strategies. The workshop was a four day long exploration of creative resistance with Reverend Billy & Savitri D.
They discussed their work and previous campaigns and then developed an action around an issue chosen by the participants. A public performance of the action was be the final culmination of the workshop.
Communication Guerrilla Revisited
23 August 2012 at 7 pm
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana
Provoking ambiguity and confusion in collective imagination, communication guerrilla promotes a radical use of fiction which strains the mechanism of ideology and social control. But what happens to subversion of mass culture when it hits a networked society? Do impostors, heroes and trolls have anything at all to do with social change? How is pranksterism evolving in the era of cynicism, information overload and digital disorder? Inspired by the 10-years experience of the Barcelona-based “The Influencers” festival, Communication Guerrilla Revisited is an open conversation through images and real stories (believe it or not) presented by Bani Brusadin, researcher, activist and founder of The Influencers.
Authors: Reverend Billy and Savitri D
Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art and zavod Bunker, Ljubljana, 2012
The programme of Aksioma Institute is supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana
Sponsor: Datacenter d.o.o.
Thanks: Bani Brusadin and The Influencers festival