'A Harrowing Puppet Show' - The New York Times

Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed

Dan Hurlin, Dan Moses Schreier

A drunken woman walks along the edge of a precipice; a quarrelling couple tear each other’s limbs off; there is an attack on the whole stage. Before you know it the scenes in this absurdist tragicomedy change from gentle to atrocious. The American theatre maker and puppeteer Dan Hurlin based this work on four single-act plays he rediscovered in Italy that had been written by the futurist Fortunato Depero at the height of World War I. Hurlin combines classic Japanese bunraku puppetry, 3D printers, video and sound sampling to create a swift, futurist piece of art. This multidisciplinary theatre reveals chilling parallels between their time and ours.

Background information

In his Manifesto of Futurism (1909), Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of the Futurist movement, set out his vision. He envisioned a world driven by conflict, aggression and movement. He wrote, 'We will glorify war—the world's only hygiene.' Driven by the technological developments of the time 

and their unbridled enthusiasm for war, the Futurists moved in the direction of rising fascism, which they embraced. What is most remarkable about the brutal ideas of the Futurists is that they still appeal to many people today. The American puppeteer Dan Hurlin based his new performance Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed on four never-before-performed one-act plays, originally written by the Futurist Fortunato Depero in 1917. 


The four plays are: Suicidi e omicidi acrobatici (Acrobatic Suicides and Homicides), Ladro automatico (Automatic Thief), Avventura elettrica (Electric Adventure) and Sicuro (Safe). They are a short story about grief that turns into the death urge, a comedy about a hypnotist-cum-thief, a thriller about adulterous lovers, and a bizarre object ballet.


Depero was an Italian writer, designer and painter. In 1914, while living in Rome, he joined the Futurists. He later moved to New York, where he designed theatre sets and costumes, before returning to Italy in the 1930s. There, he worked as a designer for the company Campari. Depero wanted to break down the borders between high and low art. In 1918, with writer Gilbert Clavel, he created I Balli Plastici (The Plastic Ballet). As well as an important development in puppet theatre, I Balli Plastici was also a significant step towards the futuristic ideal of a theatre that was completely free of human actors and in which machines played the main roles. The four one-scene plays from 1917 form a preliminary study for this major work. They lay forgotten for a long time. 


Until 2013, when Dan Hurlin stumbled across documents that referred to the existence of the four puppet plays during a stay at the American Academy in Rome. Hurlin, an acclaimed director and puppeteer with the performance Hiroshima Maiden (2004) to his name, was immediately interested. He set out to find them in Rovereto, Depero's home village at the foot of the Alps. There, in Depero's personal archive, he found a box with papers full of stage directions: the four one-act plays. Four plays without any dialogue and without drawings or descriptions of the puppets. Hurlin was delighted. Now he was able to design his own puppets. These were angular cubic figures in bright colours, without facial expressions: more robot than human. 


Depero's scripts reveal his background as a designer. The plot is often secondary to image and movement. Hurlin and the puppeteers on stage make use of video projections (Tom Lee), Bunraku (Japanese puppet theatre) and miniature sets to carry out the almost endless flow of sometimes impossible stage directions, from moving tables and steps to floating puppets and flying lifts. There is also a narrator (Jennifer Kidwell) who reads out the stage directions, as well as ominous music by Dan Moses Schreier. 


Violence and death are recurring themes in these plays. The puppets are either victims or offenders. A woman jumps off a staircase to her death, two lovers quarrel and tear each other's eyes out, a figure with a huge rifle commits a bloody assault. Everyone ends up dead. Initially, the contrast between the violent matter and the innocent-looking puppets is still large, which is something to laugh about. Slowly but surely, however, once it is clear that there is no way of escaping the horror, the smiles are wiped off the faces of the audience. Hurlin succeeds in bringing this hundred-year-old play back to life in a miraculous way. 

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Biography

Dan Hurlin is an American puppeteer and theatre director. He won prizes for his solo A Cool Million (1990) and the puppet shows Everyday Uses For Sight: Nos. 3 & 7 (2000) and Hiroshima Maiden (2004). His other shows include Who's Hungry?/West Hollywood 

(2008) and Who's Hungry?/Santa Monica (2010): a series of puppet shows based on the stories of homeless people in Los Angeles. Disfarmer (2009) is a puppet show about the American photographer Mike Disfarmer. The background to this performance featured in the documentary Puppet by director David Soll. Earlier performances include: NO(thing so powerful as) Truth (1995), Constance and Ferdinand (1991), The Jazz Section (1989) and his toy play The Day The Ketchup Turned Blue (1997), based on a short story by John C. Russell. Hurlin teaches dance, puppetry and theatre at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. He won the 2013-14 Rome Prize in the visual arts from the American Academy in Rome. Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed had its global premiere in 2016 during the SummerScape Festival in the state of New York. This performance is Hurlin's debut at the Holland Festival. 

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Focus: democracy

This year several festival artists are looking at the problems faced by Western democracies. The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville admired democracy for its social equality. He saw its dangers too. Director Romeo Castellucci is making Democracy in America, based on De Tocqueville’s eponymous book 

(1835). In The Gabriels director Richard Nelson reflects on the recent American election year through the eyes of an ordinary family. Other artists focus on controversies in democracies, such as the issue of refugees in directors Dieudonné Niangouna and Thomas Bellinck’s performances. Others address the threat of violence (Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed), tyranny (Octavia), or shaping activism (The Tempest Society). In Manifesto the film director Julian Rosefeldt examines the relation between art and society. 

We are presenting two national theatre production companies, each with its own state of the nation: My Country by the National Theatre in London, and The Nation by the Dutch National Theatre in The Hague. Both performances show divided countries in which no one, from politicians to citizens, seems to dare to take responsibility. We also believe that it is important to explore democracy of form. Members of the audience can get actively involved as a passer-by, participant, or activist, if they so wish. Our artists encourage you to question the old hierarchy between the audience and the artists.

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Credits

text
Fortunato Depero
translation, design, direction
Dan Hurlin
music
Dan Moses Schreier
puppeteers
Josh Rice, Tom Lee, Nehprii Amenni, Takemi Kitamura, CB Goodman, Rowan Magee, Chris Carcione
narrator
Karen Kandel
creation
the ensemble
media design
Tom Lee
light
Tyler Micoleau
costumes
Anna Thomford
creative producer
MAPP International Productions
commissioned by and developed in
Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College
with support from
Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Howard Gilman Foundation

This performance was made possible with support by