Theatre to change the theatre of politics

People have known for years, decades and even centuries that politics are essentially theatre. The actors say their lines, take part in the frequently slow-moving drama that is their house of commons or city council and sometimes get involved in more quick-moving drama that is scandal.

At the end of the day, the show must go on and it does, only this show affects the lives of its audience in ways most other theatre can’t. It is also a theatre that limits its principal roles to characters that resemble the “norm” of the day or rather the “norm” of 20 years earlier, with occasional flashes of something new that ultimately, though, conforms to the norm.

While most of it is loose improv, the overall storyline is written well in advance by behind-the-scenes people you never see. Sometimes, people from the outside, with honest intentions of making a difference in the real world can make their way into the theatre. They may get to be guest stars for a while, but soon enough the script writers take over and they either fall into the established storyline or end up written out or relegated to secondary or tertiary character status and the show goes on.

This happens because, as real people, they aren’t prepared for the dramatic situation they walk into. The solution may very well be to get someone who already knows how to use the theatre to challenge unfair situations and excels in changing an established script into this play. This may happen in New York City very soon.

Reverend Billy is the preacher of the Church of Life After Shopping (formerly the Church of Stop Shopping). He is the character of New York actor Bill Talen. For years, the reverend has led his choir and followers on retail interventions at places like Starbucks, Wal-Mart and the Disney Store, preaching against the sins of consumerism and consumer culture represented by those places.

He has written books and been the subject of a movie produced by Morgan Spurlock called What Would Jesus Buy. Lately, he has been defending historic NYC places like Coney Island and Union Square from pro-corporate gentrification being made possible and encouraged by the administration of Michael Bloomberg. He does all of this in a very theatrical manner.

Now, he is running as the Green Party candidate for mayor of New York City. His platform is founded on the principle that “New York City is the sum of its neighbourhoods” and supports local economies instead of big-box multinationals. He wants to see a sustainable, safe, educated, healthy, immigrant and LGBT-friendly city and is offering very concrete ways to make this happen.

His campaign is based on the streets and even in unconventional places like subway cars. It focuses more on the voices of the people then the candidate and as such is getting quite a bit of support from ordinary New Yorkers as well as well-known performers like Joan Baez who recently performed at one of his fundraisers.   His candidacy is also inspiration to people in other communities like San Fransisco, where he has been invited to speak.

So, he has a chance of getting elected, but what then? What happens when someone like Bill Talen who is doing this for the right reasons gets into the theatre of New York City government? This is where, hopefully, his theatre skills will kick in. He’s not just some actor who is used to playing by someone else’s script, but rather a well-rounded theatre artist who’s adept not only in performance but in changing an oppressive script into one that liberates.

Hopefully he will be able to change the New York political script into one that helps the communities and people he is fighting for and make it a show worth watching and supporting.

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