Futurism, Dada, Surrealism & Expressionism

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  • 0:06 Dramatic Movements of…
  • 0:37 Futurism
  • 1:38 Expressionism
  • 2:12 Dada
  • 3:18 Surrealism
  • 3:47 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Carroll

Heather teaches high school English. She holds a master's degree in education and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

They say that entertainment often mirrors reality. This was only partially true in the early 20th century. Watch this video to see how playwrights all took different approaches to creating their own realities in these dramatic movements of the early 1900s.

Dramatic Movements of the Early 1900s

The early 20th century was a period of major upheaval, not just in America but across the globe. The terrors of World War I had sparked a sense of disillusionment that was only fueled all the more by the stock market crash, the Great Depression, and World War II. As people's outlook on humanity began to shift, so did art, music, and writing. In dramatic theatre, playwrights began to experiment by mixing different dramatic forms, as well as creating new ones.


The late 1800s and early 1900s saw many advances in technology, including the car and the airplane. Futurism, an Italian movement codified by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 The Manifesto of Futurist Painting, focused on moving forward to the future and saw technology, violence, and youth as symbolizing the road ahead. Futurists went so far as to call for the destruction of tradition and looked to close libraries, museums, and any academies.

In a series of many manifestos, the Futurists tried to create styles for everything from music, to theatre, to furniture. Their dramatic style tried to 'symphonize' people's feelings by 'assaulting the nerves' in the hopes of helping the audience to forget everyday life and discover their subconscious. This movement quickly lost respect when it supported the aggression of the Italian Fascists and the German Nazi party, believing that war was an example of 'supreme energy.'


Whereas Futurists embraced advances in technology, Expressionists saw it as harming the individual. Emerging in Germany around 1910, Expressionism did not try to depict reality. Instead, it wanted to challenge materialism and the industrialism that was growing across the world. The plays that have been labeled Expressionist share characteristics rather than follow a set of ideas. Mostly, the characters in Expressionist drama are looking for their true identity because their materialism is keeping them from being fulfilled.


After World War I, many artists and writers began rejecting the values that had started the war. Expressionism saw parallel movements popping up all over the world as a result. One of those movements, Surrealism, was finding its roots in France. In 1916, at the age of 19, Tristan Tzara walked onto the Cabaret Voltaire stage, sang some overemotional songs, and threw paper at the audience while performers on stilts wearing masks raced around the stage.

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