Don't shop: Durkee's message to NYC

When Savitri Durkee left Charlottesville in 1997 to head for the Big Apple, she hoped to find opportunities for dance, theater, and self-expression.

But after the 2000 presidential election, her disillusionment with the state of politics and the arts mounted. When she met 52-year-old performance artist and activist Bill Talen, the 32-year-old Durkee, one of the original members of the Zen Monkey dance troupe, found herself at the center of a zealous anti-consumerism movement, The Church of Stop Shopping.

Along with Talen, a.k.a. the Rev. Billy, and a 25-member choir, Durkee has organized countless "actions" in a variety of corporate settings. Those corporations are none too appreciative; in fact, the Rev. Billy and his congregant chorus have been banned from all Starbucks, and Wal-Mart is no great fan either.

On October 13, Talen faces stalking charges stemming from an April incident at an L.A. Starbucks.

"They use violent boyfriend language," says Durkee with disgust. "He's no longer allowed to stalk the victim, Starbucks."

A recent New York Times article details the group's M.O.

Following a brief skit in an L.A. Starbucks involving two women, one of whom announces she's received a corporate endorsement deal for her love, the Rev. Billy bursts onto the scene. And quite the scene it is, according to the Times' Jonathan Dee.

"He is 6-foot-3, impossible not to look at in his white suit, clerical collar and dyed-blond pompadour," writes Dee. "'Hallelujah!' he shouts through a white cardboard megaphone as he bursts through the door. 'This is an abusive place, children! It has landed in this neighborhood like a space alien! The union-busting, the genetically engineered milk, the fake bohemianism! But we don't have to be here, children! This is the Good News!'"

Such actions– including one at Ground Zero– typically happen once a week, says Durkee, who explains that she and Talen– to whom she is now married– pay their rent by teaching at various universities. Their cross-country trips are funded primarily by private donors who support the cause.

"We're too political for most arts funding," she explains, "but not mainstream enough to get political funding."

Last year the Rev. Billy gave a "sermon" as part of the Fringe Festival, an event associated with the University of Virginia's Film Festival. So will Charlottesville play host again?

"I'd love to bring the whole choir down there," Durkee says. "Charlottesville is ripe for that kind of thing. The gentrification is mind blowing."

Savitri Durkee: She shopped 'til she stopped.