Before there was Reverend Billy, there was Bill Talen, born and raised in Minnesota, in the midst of conservative Dutch Calvinism, a faith he rejected as a teenager. He became a playwright, performer, and producer, working for years in San Francisco before he moved to New York City in the mid-1990s. “Rev. Billy,” Talen’s alter ego, was created in 1997, when Talen/Billy began street-corner preaching near the new Disney Store in Times Square, using the cadences and mannerisms of a TV evangelist to decry the chain-store commercial excesses of gentrification.
Rev. Billy began to take his preaching into the Disney Store, and later into Starbucks, often joined by supporters who would help him stage “shopping interventions,” during which he might, for example, perform an “exorcism” of the cash register. In the process, the Church of Stop Shopping was born, a performance activism nonprofit staffed almost entirely by volunteers, including many professional musicians, singers, and actors who turn up as they’re able at actions and rallies promoting free speech, local communities, and anti-consumerism; tour with Rev. Billy as the Stop Shopping Choir; and help lead periodic “revival” productions.