The character of Reverend Billy was developed in the mid 1990s by actor and playwright, William Talen.
Talen grew up in small towns throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. He left home at 16, moving east with Charles and Patricia Gaines, a writer and painter who encouraged him as an artist. Talen began to perform his poems and stories, hitch-hiking from Philadelphia to New York to San Francisco.
Talen’s chief collaborator in developing the Reverend Billy character was the Reverend Sidney Lanier, vicar of St. Clement’s in the 1960s, an Episcopal Church in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. In an effort to increase attendance at St. Clement’s, Lanier had torn out the altar and pews, inviting actors to perform scenes from plays by his cousin Tennessee Williams and Terrence McNally, and founding the American Place Theater. Lanier described Talen as “more of a preacher with a gift for social prophecy than an actor.” In the early 1990s Talen moved with Lanier to New York City from the San Francisco Bay Area, branding his act as a “new kind of American preacher”
The Reverend Billy character debuted on the sidewalk at Times Square in 1998, outside the Disney Store, where he proclaimed Mickey Mouse to be the anti-Christ. He was arrested multiple times outside the Disney Store, where he duct-tapped Mickey Mouse to a cross. Reverend Billy’s sermons decried the evils of consumerism and the racism of sweatshop labor, and what Talen saw as the loss of neighborhood spirit in Rudolph Giuliani‘s New York.
The Reverend Billy character isn’t so much a parody of a preacher, as a preacher motif used to blur the lines between performance and religious experience. “It’s definitely a church service,” Talen explained but, he added, it’s “a political rally, it’s theater, it’s all three, it’s none of them.” Alisa Solomon, the theater critic at the Village Voice, said of Reverend Billy’s persona, “The collar is fake, the calling is real.” Along with the Church of Stop Shopping, they have been referred to by academics as “performance activism,” “carnivalesque protest,” and “artivists”
We perform in all kinds of situations. This is a selection of venues, residencies and significant events.
40 weeks of the First Amendment at Ground Zero 2004
The Church of Stop Shopping at Burning Man 2003-2014
St Marks in the Bowery Residents 2003-2007
Theatre 80 Weekly Church Service 2010-2011
Rebel Content tour with Neil Young 2015
Fiery Eagles of Justice
Writing in Trump Tower
Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater residents 2015-2020
FESTIVALS (select) Adelaide Fringe, Athens Festival, Spektakel, Donau, Sterischer Herbst, Edinburg Fringe, Forest Fringe, Truth is Concret, The Influencers, hotDocs, FIERCE, Latitude, Celebrate Brooklyn!, NYC Fringe, Live Ideas NY, Burning Man, Secret Garden Party, Sundance, Bioneers, Silver Docs, Brooklyn Folk Festival, World Social Forum, Encuentro!
VENUES & INSTITUTIONS ( select) ICA London, ICP NYC, Creative Time, Haus der Kulture Welt, St John of the Divine, RedCat, The Castro Theater, Cafe Voltaire , NYU, The New School, Harvard, Cal Arts, USF, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, University of Michigan, Yale, Wheaton, Conway Hall…..
Short film by Rob Van Alkemades
full length documentary by directed by Rob Van Alkemades, produced by Morgan Spurlock and Savitri D
30 minute episodes and excerpts
short video sermons
many episodes from 2016-2019
current broadcast released on tuesday nights. Please Subscribe!
First Amendment in Ground Zero
Walmart out of New York
Victoria’s Secret Catalog Campiagn
Robo Bees Stop Neo-Nicitinoids, Save the Honeybee!
Black Lives Matter ( ongoing)
Stop Mountain Removal, Mountain in My Lobby
Monsanto is the Devil
Occupy Wall Street
IN THE MEDIA
In No Particular order
- Burke, Monte (April 21, 2011). “Reverend Billy and His Crusade Against Consumerism”. Forbes. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
- Moynihan, Colin (June 14, 2017). “The Activists Who Are Staging Protest in Trump Tower”. The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
- Kalb, Jonathan (February 27, 2000). “The Downtown Gospel According to Reverend Billy”. The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
- Jacobs, Harrison (February 4, 2015). “The craziest thing about this legendary singing, anti-corporate preacher is that he isn’t real”. Business Insider. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
- Kasperkevic, Jana (November 27, 2015). “The Church of Stop Shopping doesn’t pull punches on its return to New York”. The Guardian. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- “The Reluctant Religion of Reverend Billy”. Alternet. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
- Solomon, Alisa (March 14, 2000). “Never Can Say Good Buy”. The Village Voice. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- Perucci, Tony (2009). “What the Fuck is That?: The Poetics of Ruptural Performance”. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies. 5.3: 1–18.
- Dee, Jonathan (August 22, 2004). “Reverend Billy’s Unholy War”. The New York Times Magazine.
- Kolbert, Elizabeth (May 19, 2014). “Buzzkill”. The New Yorker. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
- Josh, Godfrey (March 17, 2000). “Reviews: Reverend Billy”. Theater Mania. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
- “The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts”. The Herb Alpert Awards.
- “Booth Award, Previous Award Recipients”. The Graduate Center, CUNY
- Bunge, Jacob (October 15, 2016). “If Monsanto Loses Its Name, What Will Its Haters Have Left to Hate?”. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 2, 2018.
- Ehren, Christine (December 16, 2000). “Merry Christmas, Rev. Billy: Performance Preacher Hosts Poe Service Dec. 16”. Playbill. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- Post, Dietmar; Palacios, Lucía (2002). “Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping”. playloud!.
- Ganahl, Jane (April 24, 2004). “He’s a preacher — of sorts — who has found his calling: rooting out the evils of consumerism, block by entertaining block”. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- Hartocollis, Anemona (September 26, 2007). “A Street Performer Crusades for the First Amendment”. The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- Wilensky-Lanford, Ethan (July 1, 2007). “A Pretend Preacher, a Real Arrest and a Debate About Free Speech”. The New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- Macedo, Edber; Fang, Jimmy; Le, Thomas; Ong, Paul M. (July 1, 2014). “Impact of Big Businesses in Chinatown”. UCLA Case Studies. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
- Heller, ZP (May 25, 2011). “Spilling the Beans About Starbucks’ Union-Busting Tactics”. HuffPost. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
- “Storm in a coffee cup: Starbucks vs Ethiopia”. The Economist. November 30, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- Talen, Bill (April 1, 2005). “What Should I Do if Reverend Billy is in My Store”. New York Press.
- Vidal, John (November 25, 2013). “Reverend Billy faces year in prison for JP Morgan Chase toad protest”. The Guardian. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
- Vidal, John (July 19, 2011). “Reverend Billy leads exorcism of BP’s ‘evil spirit’ from Tate Modern”. The Guardian. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Forde, Kaelyn (June 2, 2014). “Taking off from Harvard Yard: Flight of the RoboBees”. Al Jazeera. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Rossignol, Derrick (July 3, 2015). “Fellow Monsanto Opponent Reverend Billy to Open for Neil Young in NYC”. Diffuser. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Hamm, Theodore (December 2, 2016). “A Performance Troupe Takes on Immigration, Monsanto, and Standing Rock”. Hyperallergenic. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- “STATE’S MOTION IN LIMINE, AND/OR FOR 5.104(A) RULING” (PDF). January 2, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Talen, Billy (January 24, 2017). “On Monsanto and the First Amendment”. Al Jazeera. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- Sharpe, Jill (May 31, 2002). “Culture Jam: Hijacking Commercial Culture”. IMDb. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
- 2006 Sundance Film Festival Announces Awards for Documentary and Dramatic Films in Independent Film and World Cinema Competitions (PDF)
- “The Last Televangelist: Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping”. TV Guide. 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Kern, Laura (November 16, 2007). “The Gospel of Stop Shopping”. The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018..
- Music News Desk (March 4, 2016). “Activists Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir Announce ‘The Earth Wants YOU!‘“. Broadway World. Retrieved April 30, 2018.