Bill Talen and Reverend Billy: A Shared Journey
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As the cultural upheaval of the `60s fought its way into the `70s, Bill Talen began his career first as a poet, hitchhiking the interstate highways from the Midwest to the Coasts eagerly engaging the literary, intellectual, and artistic opportunities offered by those cultural venues. He settled in San Francisco where he earned an M.A. in Theatre Arts and joined with friends to open a theatre, "Life on the Water." Here Talen met Sydney Lanier, a minister, who became his lifelong mentor and champion. Lanier recognized in Talen a bold presence which accompanies successful preachers and elevates their sermons. He promoted and supported Talen's move to New York City where Talen fully embraced his role as Reverend Billy and directed the full might of his talents against consumerism--especially Michael Bloomberg's socio-economic goals for the City. Eventually, Talen's critique came to challenge foreign policies that promote corporatism, environmental decline, and the global homogenization of culture. Talen's body of work is extensive and two strong threads run through it that are exemplary. One evidences a complete and purposeful disregard for any artistic borders, especially the edgy land between acting and not-acting, including the tiny gradients as one merges into the other. Talen's recognition of the porosity of borders likely facilitated his willing assimilation of his character, Reverend Billy, into his own daily life and persona, until the two merged, endowing Talen, the performance artist, with the skills and insights of a spiritual leader. The second thread is simply Talen's life's journey from reluctant performer of a religious role, to the willing engagement of that role, and finally the adoption of spiritual responsibility, eventually forming a church and a religion based on activism and a strong commitment to environmental causes. The performance artist became Reverend; the Reverend was born to act. This merging of talents, goals, and dreams created a character who would run for public office. It created a performance artist who would wed lovers, baptize new congregants, and console the grieving.