Keep your eyes open. Imbibe the splendor of your visage. Don’t look too long. Ingest this humble pie.
Genevieve Belleveau peers tentatively into a silver bowl of gin, considering her reflection. She leans in further, lapping up some of the liquid as she bobs for the gold-wrapped chocolate coin at the bottom, holding it between her teeth as she stands back upright, smiling.
This Sunday afternoon Belleveau is known as gorgeousTaps. She’s been holding theatrical church services that imitate the structure of traditional Lutheran mass in her Greenpoint backyard for several weeks. The services include an opening Hymn, a benediction, a responsive between gorgeousTaps and her parishioners (collectively called “the reality show”), several sermons by guest speakers that reflect upon the theme, the sacrament, a hymn, and closing re-Marxisms. The theme two Sundays ago was “Narcissism”—hence the reflective pool of gin for the sacrament. Other themes have included curiosity, obsession, catharsis, and irony.
The church itself was a product of a whim—when Belleveau saw her giant backyard, she started off-handedly mentioning that she was going to start holding services in it.
“As soon as I started telling people, they started bringing up really interesting ideas to me,” Belleveau said. “Everyone had something very important to say about church and their own experiences with religion, and I was a little floored. I thought there must be something to this idea. I never actually had any intention of doing the church service, but the reaction I got was so powerful.”
Belleveau, a Bennington graduate who studied performance and visual art, and who grew up in a Lutheran Evangelical home, has used the services to explore ideas of religion and personal dogma through playful and meaningful collaboration with her peers and neighbors. She’s always had a flare for the theatrical—when she was five her mother entered her into a beauty pageant and for the talent portion she wanted to ‘live paint’ a picture in front of the audience. And since college, which included internships in Los Angeles and New York, she’s been specifically interested in the ideas of audience and performer, spectacle and hype, reality and irony.
“I’m really influenced by sociology and I experimental psychology. I’m fascinated by the way that people interact with each other, and what we do to see each other and be seen,” Belleveau said.
Her interests have led her to audition for reality shows in Los Angeles, and star in a pilot for a reality show as one of the female Mister Softie drivers in the Queen Frostine ice cream company in New York.
The gorgeousTaps church services, though playful, are a departure from Belleveau’s often cynical or ironic takes on things. Instead, they’re thoughtful meditations that allow both Belleveau and the dozen or so attendants each Sunday to perform, reflect, and share their feelings and ideas, both during the service and in her cozy apartment afterward.
‘The thing is, I haven’t found answers from it yet, but these performances have started to make me and the people involved think about what we do to create meaning in our lives, and what the rituals are that we engage in,” Belleveau said.
“I feel like we all create a concept of God in our lives,” she continued. “Whether I believe in this Christian God or not…I don’t know if it’s a religious construct, or if it’s just a modern construct of living in an age where there are ample opportunities to be an exhibitionist, but I always have this sense that someone is watching me. That whatever I’m doing, it better be good, or important, or appealing, or meaningful. Not wasteful. It’s becoming more and more apparent that we can really all be watching each other all the time and sharing that information with everyone. It’s really closing in on us. It’s like we’re all becoming God for each other. We’re all creating this sense of being watched and judged.”
The components of the services often humorous—the sacraments have included raw onion slices, banana chips, and whisky. For one sermonette, Belleveau played a “Charlie Bit Me” autotune remix from YouTube on her Mac (“this has been bringing me joy all week,” she explained). But they’re also challenging, emotional, and thoughtful. During the “Catharsis” service, a performance artist played the role of “the crying woman,” sitting amongst candles and weeping throughout the entire service. At the “Narcissism” service, Belleveau’s friend, who dubbed himself Vincent Van”ity” Vogue, called in and gave a sermon on God, vanity, and their place in today’s technology, social media-driven times—particularly apt as he was sermonizing via Belleveau’s cell phone’s speakerphone.
The services may be performance pieces, but the reverence that the congregation brings each week is never feigned. Belleveau puts careful thought and consideration into her programs, and asks that her parishioners do the same. All sit poised and attentive, smiling but not snickering as Belleveau sermonizes before them, dressed in a leopard-print unitard, a colorful sheer sheet, and staggering clear plastic pumps filled with trinkets.
“The thing that has been the biggest gift for me, and for the people involved, is just to find that we have each other,” Belleveau said. “That there are people who are really determined to do more than just sit around at bars and snark. People that are really dedicated to being in the moment and being alive and not letting everything pass them by.”
The feeling of acceptance that characterizes the services became the centerpiece of last Sunday’s final service, “Show and Tell.” Each guest was given the opportunity to share something with the group. The contributions ranged from one member bringing her massive collection of black pointed shoes, to which she assigns a spiritual-like obsession, to another telling the story of his time in New York by way of his mishap-filled sex-life. Others were incredibly personal, emotional, and inspiring, and many people surprised themselves by what they were willing to share with a group of accepting friends and strangers.
“I think the most rewarding part of the service so far is that it has created these amazing gatherings where people are really sitting around and talking about things that I don’t think they’d be talking about at a party. It’s unifying the conversation and making it so that we are really creating a community. We’re meeting new people, but instead of the usual ‘Hey, how are you, what do you do?’ We’re asking: how did you grow up, religiously speaking? And what does that make you as a person? It’s been really lovely.”