Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is a New York City-based radical performance group preaching Earth love and anti-consumerism. Reverend Billy jokes that some people think of their group as a cult, and in reality, they are. They are religiously devoted to the Earth, and their methods of praising it may seem unusual to some. They blend theatre and activism in concert and on the streets, and their members have faced police arrest for their protests.
As part of Adelaide Fringe 2019, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir bring their show ‘Earthalujah!’ to the RCC. On the steps of Bonython Hall local group ‘Rise Up Singing’ greet the queue lining up with songs campaigning to stop drilling into the Great Australian Bright. It is a reminder this performance goes beyond the stage.
The ‘great hall’ of the University of Adelaide is the perfect venue to resonate the gospel voices of this infamous group. The choir, dressed in multi-colored costumes, come through the aisles with protest signs. They are followed by their preacher Reverend Billy in a pink suit and clerical collar.
On stage, the group treats their audience to songs and sermons about our dying Earth and our few days left. Their sorrowful songs inspire a desire to fight for our world. The singers are accompanied by a bassist and Nehemiah Luckett, the musical director, on keyboard. There are many wonderful solos throughout in particular the soprano singer called Dragonfly.
Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir’s fight against climate change is not their only struggle as the group also protests immigration, which even prohibited one of their own choir members from joining them on their Australian tour. There is a photo poster of Theodros Tamirat on stage to show he is still there in spirit even if the authorities will not permit him into the country.
Although only some of the choir could make the journey down under, the choir shows no sign they are missing voices. Led by church co-founder Savitri D, the performance was full of high energy movement and world-class gospel singing. However, I wish the show included more of the unusual theatrics the group is known for like cash register exorcisms.
During their first trip to Australia, the group brought their unique activism to the stage and local protests preaching for change. This may be more entertaining than any church I’ve attended but it spreads the important message that, in the face of unprecedented natural disasters at home and abroad, there is no excuse for inaction on climate change.
The 2019 Fringe season of Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir: EARTHALUJAH! has finished but this community will continue to perform and protest.
Words by Chloe Cannell