Monday, July 22, 2019


Francesco Cangiullo (1884-1977) was an Italian author, playwright and painter who after he met the movement’s founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), became actively engaged in the development of Futurism.  The year when this initial meeting took place in Naples was 1910, but Cangiullo’s official entry into Futurism is recorded in 1913.

It was 1915 when Cangiullo wrote his play Detonation (Detonazione). The entire script for this

play appears below:
                                                Synthesis of All Modern Theater


Road at night, cold, deserted.
A minute of silence. –A gunshot.    

I believe Detonation was written to provide an example of the criterion for the perfect Futurist Synthetic Theatre drama.  In 1915 the manifesto titled THE FUTURIST SYNTHETIC THEATRE was written by Marinetti, Emilio Settimelli (1891-1954) and Bruno Corra (1892-1976).  The manifesto stressed modernity through sensations, speed, movement and industrial development. The idea was to compress the entire drama into a few minutes while the play created for the viewer multiple situations, sensations, ideas, symbols and facts. The Futurists wanted to destroy the theater inherited from Ancient Greece and replace it with “creating synthetic expressions of cerebral energy that have THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF NOVELTY.”  The Futurists also wanted their theatre to excite audiences who were to forget the monotony of daily life by being swept through a labyrinth of sensations that were combined in unpredictable ways.

The Futurists also had a political agenda for their dramatic presentations. Their aim across all their artistic endeavors was to express themes of war and conflict.  These broad themes were to urge Italy to immediately enter the war since Futurists, like the Expressionists, believed war would provide a social cleansing.

Detonation not only fulfills the philosophic and artistic requirements of the Futurists, but it expresses several of the basic impulses the Futurists wanted audience members to experience. Did hearing a single gunshot during the night in 1915, signal the start of war for Italy? Did it mean war had entered one’s city? Did it make some individuals want to join the battle? Did it make audience members want to hide or flee? This moment of theatre had the potential for audience members to generate many individual reactions.

The Futurists held their theatrical events in large regional cities (Naples, Rome, Venice, Florence, etc.) and the performances were widely publicized. The plays and speeches were held outdoors in large public spaces. Martinetti believed that in 1915 ninety percent of the Italian population attended theatrical performances while only the remaining ten percent read books. He wanted audiences to forget the monotony of their lives and become swept away with the novelty, energy and ideas that Synthetic Theater provided.
Since Detonation appears to possess all the elements desired for successful Synthetic Theatre and the timing for its creation being 1915, I imagine it as the perfect piece to present during the year that Italy entered the conflict one step at a time. Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but on May 3, 1915 it revoked its membership. On May 23, 1915 the Italian government declared war on Austria-Hungary but deferred any declaration regarding Germany; August 20, 1915 declared war on Turkey; October 15, 1915 declared war on Bulgaria and August 28, 1916 declared war on Germany. It was this slow pace of inching in to the major war fronts that frustrated the Futurists and prompted them to keep pushing their agenda to the Italian citizenry.

Were these plays successful in their time? Obviously, the Futurists were never able to destroy conventional theatre as they desired.  I have not read any reviews about these Futurist performances, however, John H. Muse in his book titled Microdramas: Crucibles For The Theater and Time states: “Professional theater critics rarely took the Futurists seriously enough to bother attending their events, so responses come primarily from other newspaper staff.” 

Apparently, the Futurists’ evenings provided curious, thought-provoking free entertainment to keep attracting audiences throughout Italy. However, Professor Muse comments: “audiences complained that performances of the sintesi were too slow.”  This refers to the entire evening of these plays since “the plays were very short and the intervals very long.”  It is hard to hold an audience when the total length of ten plays during an evening was approximately thirty minutes while the length of the entire program was two hours.

This structure for an evening of plays may have occurred from time to time; however, I am under the impression that other Futurist events such as political speeches, visual art presentations, etc. filled the time that it took to set-up the next short play.  It is also possible that the programing for the Futurist evenings may have varied from one city to the next.

The initial movement of Futurism was concluded by the end of World War One. 

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