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The Reverend Billy Project: From Rehearsal Hall to Super Mall with the Church of Life After Shopping

by Bill Talen Savitri D

Reverend Billy, the revivalist preacher created by performance artist Bill Talen, has attracted an international following as he has railed in white suit and clerical collar against the evils of excessive consumerism and corporate irresponsibility. In his early solo performances in Times Square he delivered sermons by megaphone against Starbucks and the Disney Store; as his message and popularity spread, he's been joined by a 35-member choir (the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir) and a 7-piece band. The group's acclaimed stage show and media appearances (including a major motion picture,What Would Jesus Buy?) have reached millions. The Reverend Billy Project presents backstage accounts of recent performance actions by Reverend Billy and the troupe's director, Savitri D, recounting their exploits on three continents in vivid narratives that are engaging, shrewdly analytical, and at times side-splittingly funny. We watch as the group plans invisible theater interventions in Starbucks, designs a mermaid hunger strike to thwart gentrification plans for Coney Island, and makes an extended effort to preserve the public nature of New York's Union Square. We follow them to an action camp in Iceland and a flop of a show redeemed by a successful impromptu demonstration in a Berlin shopping mall. As thoughtful as they are funny and inventive, Reverend Billy and Savitri D's story-essays bring to life a playful yet sincere new form of political theater. "The Reverend Billy Project lucidly and perceptively explains the Reverend Billy phenomenon with wry, infectious humor and remarkable intelligence. Though many political activists have used theater and performance to achieve political ends, very few have left such articulate reports on what they did, let alone detailed road maps of the treacherous theatrical, political, and psychological territory they negotiated." ---Jonathan Kalb, Hunter College.

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