Saturday, February 21, 2015

He says he’s not a parody of a preacher, but he could have fooled me

I got an e-mail today from the Church of Stop Shopping Choir and its '”preacher” Rev. Billy describing their protest at Monsanto and Ferguson.  Wikipedia is a biased source on just about everything, but I didn’t want to devote a lot of my time to this actor/character/charade, so this is what it says, although I’m not sure if he is a parody of a Christian pastor, or a wing-nut environmentalist-activist:

“Bill Talen (born May 25, 1950) is a Dutch-American Calvinist Minnesota-born, Franconia College-educated actor who moved to New York City from San Francisco in the early 1990s, where he had originally created a character that was a hybrid of street preacher, arguably Elvis, and televangelist called Reverend Billy. This character was performed in various San Francisco alternative theater venues, where Talen had earned a considerable reputation as both a performer and a producer (Life On The Water theater, the Solo Mio Festival, Writers Who Act, etc.) In New York, Talen began appearing as Reverend Billy on street corners in Times Square, near the recently opened Disney Store. Times Square had recently begun its transformation from a seedy but lively center of small-time and sometimes illicit commerce—and also of New York theatre—to a more gentrified and tourist-friendly venue for large companies like Disney and big-budget stage productions like The Lion King. Whereas other street preachers chose Times Square because of its reputation for sin, Reverend Billy's sermons focused on the evils of consumerism and advertising—represented especially by Disney and Mickey Mouse—and on what Talen saw as the loss of neighborhood spirit and cultural authenticity in Rudolph Giuliani's New York.

Talen's chief collaborator in developing the Reverend Billy character was the Reverend Sidney Lanier. A cousin of Tennessee Williams with an interest in avant-garde theater, Lanier was then the vicar of St. Clement's, an Episcopal church in Hell's Kitchen that doubled as a theatrical space, where Talen was working as house manager. Lanier encouraged Talen, who was suspicious of religious figures after rejecting the conservative Protestantism of his youth, to study radical theologians and performers; of these, Talen credits Elaine Pagels and Lenny Bruce as particularly strong influences. Though Talen does not call himself a Christian, he says that Reverend Billy is not a parody of a preacher, but a real preacher; he describes his church's spiritual message as "put the Odd back in God."

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is a non-profit organization that includes Talen, director Savitri Durkee (who is married to Talen), a 40-member choir, and the Not Buying It band.”

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