Clowns and Poets and Artists -- Oh, My!

Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping does not preach the Christian gospel. It's just as well. Most denominations would frown upon a cleric who leads his flock on "shopping interventions" at a Disney Store. In 1999 the good reverend preached for 45 minutes on top of the check-out counters while his followers sang "Whistle While You Work for 15 Cents a Day." (No fellowship hour afterward, because Rev. Billy and others were being arrested.)

But Christians would do well to pay attention to Rev. Billy. He's got a good word.

Rev. Billy was created by New York City actor and writer Bill Talen (with the encouragement of Sidney Lanier, a former Episcopal priest active in theater circles). Rev. Billy is sort of a non-religious "social prophet" against consumerism and chain stores run amok.

Describing the psychic and cultural emptiness caused by what he calls "product hypnosis," Talen says, "I wanted to do something besides just being ironic about it." The resulting guerrilla theater project takes on the forces - Disney, Starbucks, (then-) Mayor Giuliani's attacks on community gardens - that displace local businesses and disrupt communities in Times Square and surrounding neighborhoods. With a TV preacher's bounding cadence and the backing of the Mackey Dees Gospel Choir, Rev. Billy leads on-stage "church" services at a theater space, followed by street actions (audience participation is encouraged). Rev. Billy and audience-congregants have cleaned up a community garden and planted garlic, demonstrated against sweatshops, and waged paint assaults on billboards.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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