The Church of Earthalujah is a New York City based radical performance community, with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands.
As the dynamic and charismatic Reverend Billy parades around the stage of the Film and Music tent, shouting hallelujahs (well earthalujahs actually) and calling on God to help mankind, an idle festival-goer, sheltering from the rain, or poking their head in the back might be forgiven for thinking that Latitude have provided a spiritual element to this year’s festival and that amongst the hedonism and drinking, this energetic preacher is a little misplaced.
However, listen to his sentiment for more than a minute, and you will realise that his preaching, whilst about sin and greed, is not warning of hell fire and eternal damnation by the devil, but of hell fire and damnation of our own making, caused by our consumerist guzzling of fuel and unsustainable resources.
Reverend Billy and his choir of excellent green-robed gospel singers are environmental activists of a most unusual kind. They subvert the gospel and take to the streets – flashmobbing malls and other places which have irked them with their anti-consumerist songs and messages. On a tour of England, Reverend Billy told Latitude festival how their next stop is London, where they will mob the Tate in an attempt to stop them accepting sponsorship from BP oil.
Throughout the show his choir step forward to give testimony, telling of their sins, or in one case how they almost sinned. The truly talented singer entertained the audience by describing how she was walking along the street, resisting ‘The King’, Ronald McDonald and Sister Wendy, and with a battle of wills managed to get home and make herself a sandwich! The choir join in to celebrate her achievement, and Reverend Billy lauds the benefits of eating at home.
Albeit probably preaching to as converted as you get at the eco-friendly Latitude festival, Reverend Billy’s impassioned pleas to take control of the environment, and make the world a place fit for our children, had the people in the tent whooping with agreement and up on their feet and dancing to the final motivational gospel number, urging action and a new way forward.
Reverend Billy and the earthalujah choir are an incredibly inspiring group, their format of ripping off evangelism gives them endless material for stunts such as the Big Bank Exorcism and the choir member’s testimonials of consumerist sins. It is a unique and arresting way to use theatre to tackle climate change, and I only hope that they inspire others to create work along the same lines.