Since the rarified atmosphere of Bonython Hall feels like being in church, when members of The Stop Shopping Choir file down the aisle singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah with suitably adapted lyrics (make that the “Earthalujah Chorus”), you prepare to bear witness.
Clad in a vibrant array of multi-coloured outfits, the choir processes forward, led by children bearing banners exhorting us to “STOP SHOPPING!” Following them, his face lit with fervent fire, comes the charismatic Rev Billy, the archetype of an evangelical preacher with bouffant hair and dog collar, except for his bright orange suit and the words he preaches.
Once on stage, they move straight into a rousing gospel-style song about the End of the World.
Songs are interspersed with sermons, beautifully sung solos and interludes such as a reading in Amharic of revered Rastafarian godhead Haile Selassie’s words. This is normally undertaken by Theodros Tamirat, born in Ethiopia. His absence is marked on stage with a photograph; we’re told his freedom of movement was restricted by US and Australian authorities, simply because of his country of origin.
Rev Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir call themselves “wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters”, and they mean it.
Director Savitri Durkee, singing with all her heart in the choir, runs workshops on creative resistance, and organises campaigns against destructive corporate and institutional policies. Rev Billy (William “Billy” Talen) himself began preaching anti-consumerism in Times Square in 1998, and on our seats lie bright pink bumper stickers for us to take away, proclaiming: “Superloop is the Devil!” – a reference to the car races taking place in the city.
Rev Billy preaches on this, too, retelling how he and the choir went there to gospel-shout about the “fetishisation of burning gas and macho competitiveness” until they were turned back by police. They also attended the Save the Bight protest. This is their first time in Australia, and they’re already involved in action here. “DO IT!” they urge us, singing, setting themselves as examples.
An activist community choir from New York, its 35 members reflect Earth’s humanity in all its glorious diversity, with singers from many backgrounds and places working in an assorted range of professions.
Despite a significant reduction in numbers for the trip to Adelaide, the choir sings with full-throated verve, moving members of the audience to whoop and holler. Musical director Nehemiah Luckett, resplendent in a purple suit, sings and plays keyboard while keeping the pace tight.
Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir put on a fantastically vital show. But this isn’t mere entertainment: they practise what they preach, and they deliver their vitally important message to save our planet and our humanity with love.
Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir: EARTHALUJAH! is being presented at Bonython Hall at RCC until March 10. See more Adelaide Fringe reviews and stories here.