Rev. Billy Talen and Savitri D, are co-leaders of the Church of Life After Shopping, designers of the performances and campaigns, co-authors of “Shopocalypse Now!” coming out next year from University of Michigan Press, and co-producers of the TV shows and films used in our audio-visual presentations. The “church” is a performance community centered in New York City, with a history of touring in Europe, Africa and South America. Savitri D is director of the Life After Shopping performances, both on concert stages and out in contested spaces such as Wal-Marts and Starbucks. She is co-producer of the 2007 film “What Would Jesus Buy?” and directed the invasion of Disneyland by the 35 voice choir in its climactic scene.
The 3-Part Introduction of Our Work
The Media/Sermon/Conversation with Rev and Savi is offered in lecture halls, in classrooms that have AV capabilities, in community centers and church basements. This is the introduction of our work, designed as it is to move from our 1) basic mission of our international resistance to consumerism shown in media, projected video and recordings of our songs to 2) a live performed message (a ‘sermon’) by the Rev which also responds to your local issues, and finally 3) a question and answer period led by Savitri D.
We give historical context, placing our work in streams of tradition coming from Bertolt Brecht, the Civil Rights Movement, the Situationists, Augusto Boal, Abbie Hoffman and the Living Theater. The 3-Part Introduction is usually our first activity on a campus or in a community. It is a stand alone event that can act as an evening-length show but also works in one or two hour class setting. For a visit to your community of more than a 24 hours, the Introduction often sets up the further adventures listed below, which are designed in conversations with our hosts. But as we’ve said – you may have your own ideas!
The Concert Performance
Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir is an electrifying and poignant performance that has won the OBIE Award in New York and has toured in far flung climes, from Finland to Hawaii, from Buenos Aires to British Columbia. Excited reviews have come from the London Times, Le Monde and the New York Times. This year alone we have toured with the Life After Shopping choir in Austria, Germany and England.
We are well-staged in a 200 to 600 seat house. Ideally there is a design resemblance to the televangelist churches, where it is easy for the preacher to leave the stage and enter the audience with his wireless mike to perform exorcisms and preach. The ensembles can range from 6 singers to 35, but the 8 to 12 singer range is best. The concert performance is sometimes preceded by a local blessing or parade. The director Savitri D will work with the theater crew to design the sound check and light focusing in the hours before the show. We try to invite community folks to concerts if at all possible in the setting of a college or conference ticket system. We encourage diverse audience in terms of gender, race and age.
The Workshop and an Activist Event
The Rev and Savitri D lead workshops of 6 to 20 people, and the room should be large enough to accommodate physical warm-ups and play-acting. Our “Retail Interventions” are published elsewhere on our website, and have been anthologized in “Yale Theater Review” and “The Drama Review.” However, in good workshops new culture jamming and activist strategies will be invented, as our invasive dramas, presented undercover or overtly – take on the industrial hypnosis of consumer environments. Sometimes, a neighboring super mall or chain store or predatory construction site will be the setting for a “portable drama” developed in the workshop session. Media students are welcome to accompany the actions with cameras or audio for radio and Internet postings. Work shoppers are encouraged to keep a journal of the experience, which can arouse revealing memories and emotional associations.
Communicating with local activists often takes place before our arrival. Local politics, levels of support, activist tradition, police culture – such factors are taken into account in the design of an action. This planning is shared in the workshop. Note that no one has ever been arrested while involving students, conference attendees or local activists in our work. Entering “contested space” is what we are best known for, and we done this in venues as varied as the U. S. Congress cafeteria to redwood clear cuts to your average Wal Mart. We believe that change in this country has always challenged the encroaching borders of the powerful. This is the “charged stage” in our work.
Parades, Gospel-stepping through the Cafeteria, the Quad…There is a new kind of celebration, and the Life After Shopping Gospel Church - we love performances in public space, the commons. Of course, we encountered “Reclaim the Streets” and “Critical Mass” during our formative years – these are influences for taking that collective joy public.
The introversion of the mainstream image of the televangelist, now free of the usual fundamentalism and trailing a hot choir, entering public space for morality plays, collapses and resurrections – these community-identity rituals are so fascinating that a post-show class and q & a is sometimes called for.
In a deconstruction that takes place in a good church parade, we can mix witnesses together who might have only walked by while talking on cellphones, clapping children who dance along, and security officials who view us later through surveillance footage. All this motion resists the constricted choreography of consumerism. With our out-door dancing concert we have a new coalition as an audience, you might say. In town where a parade organizes resistance to transnational big boxes and chain stores – you may find Republican 3rd generation hardware store owners arm in arm with lesbian bookstore proprietors – or parade which has a polka band next to a gothic band on wheels.
Theaters & Festivals (select)
Vooruit (Belgium); House of World Cultures (Berlin); Conway Hall (London); Victoria Theatre (San Francisco); Castro Theater, (San Francisco); Battersea Arts Center (London) Schauspieler Haus (Zurich, Hamburg, Essen, Frankfurt); ICA ( London); Mass MOCA (Massachusets); Hemispheric Encuentro ( Buenos Aires); World Social Forum (Kenya); Old South Meeting House (Boston); Los Angeles Public Library (Los Angeles); Burning Man (Nevada); Great Hall at Cooper Union ( NYC); Deitch Projects (NYC); Highline Ballroom (NYC); IKON (Birmingham); Edinburgh Fringe (UK); New York Fringe (NYC); Bioneers (California); Maulhaulden (Berlin); Conflux, New Left Forum, Speigeltent Festival, Democracy in America/Creative Time (New York); 12 City tour UK 2009; Kampnagel (Hamburg); Donau (Vienna)
Guest Artists & Lectures (select)
University of Michigan, Yale Divinity School, RISDE, University of Connecticut, University of Kansas, Franklin and Marshall College, Cornell, University of Massachusetts-Amherst , Sarah Lawrence, SUNY purchase, NYU, University of Virginia, The New School, University of Washington-Seattle; Willamette University, City University of New York, Hunter College, CSUN Los Angeles/Northridge, Creative Time, UC Santa Cruz, Boston College, Occidental, Hofstra, Municipal Arts Society, Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, Hemispheric Institute-NYU, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon, Parsons, Bard, Columbia University, Yale University
Suggested ReadingThe Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs,
Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King
The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard,
Vedic Ecology, Vendana Shiva with Ranchor Prime
Satires and Burlesques, Mark Twain
Wisdom Sits in Place, Keith Basso
Deep Economy, Bill McKibben
Life, Inc., Douglas Rushkoff
Born To Buy, Juliet Schor
Common Sense, Thomas Paine
Mayakovsky, Herbert Marshall
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins
Consumed, Benjamin Barber
Purchasing Power, Black Kids & American Consumer Culture, Elizabeth Chin
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, Working People in New York, Debra E. Bernhardt and Rachel Bernstein