Episode 51. Reverend Billy and Savitri D of EARTH RIOT

Reverend Billy and Savitri D of Earth Riot on MetaPod

EARTH RIOT is a comedy-infused, music-filled exploration of humanity’s most urgent issue – the planet’s sixth extinction.

In this episode of MetaPod, Wendy talks to radical performance artists Reverend Billy Talen and Savitri D about the EARTH RIOT podcast and their activism. The pair are known in New York City for their art combining performance and protest to raise issues about capitalism, corporate greed, consumerism, the environment and other social issues.

Reverend Billy and Savitri D are the founders and fire behind the community of performance artists/activists known as The Church of Stop Shopping, which includes the Stop Shopping Choir. The community is active in New York City and there is also a Stop Shopping Choir based in London.

EARTH RIOT with Reverend Billy and Savitri D is a podcast and radio programme that offers an entertaining and imaginative mash-up of environmental news and thought starters delivered with music, song and conviction. As Reverend Billy is fond of proclaiming, “Earthaleujah!”

Show notes

About Reverend Billy

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”.

About Savitri D

Savitri D is an artist and activist. Born at the Lama Foundation, a commune in Northern New Mexico that was started by her parents, Savitri was raised in a community by her mother and older sisters. She has lived and traveled in many places. She has an extensive background in dance and moved to New York City in 1996.

Savitri is the director of Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping. She has led direct action and organizing campaigns against corporations, institutions and injustice all over the world. Savitri is the principal designer of The Church of Stop Shopping’s visual materials and conceptualizes most of their actions with Reverend Billy and the Choir. She is a serious lover of the wild and devotes her life to working for the earth.

Savitri likes to read, run, ride her bike and make things with her hands. She is the mother of a wonderful ten year old named Lena Nightstar. Savitri lives in Brooklyn with William Talen where she enjoys cold water swimming in the Atlantic Ocean all year long.