Alessandro Pavolini, Luigi Bonelli, Gherardo Gherardi, Sandro Feo, Raffaele Melani, Corrado Sofia, Carlo Lisi, Giorgio Venturini

18 BL (1934)


The play 18 BL stages the past, the present, and the future of the Fascist regime, and is therefore a synthesis of the Fascist epic narrated through the symbolic exploits of a Fiat 18 BL truck, representing the hero-machine. The truck is depicted in key moments of the development of Fascism: during WW1, then in the context of ‘squadrismo’ and the fascist ‘revolution’ of 1922, and finally at the time of the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes, until it breaks down and is pushed into a pit that needs to be filled, performing an extreme sacrifice for the homeland. The play was staged as an ‘experimental mass spectacle’ (Schnapp 1993, 91) held on the night of 29th April 1934 on the left shore of the Arno, on a site known as Albereta dell’Isolotto. It was presented as the principal event of the ‘Littoriali della Cultura e dell’Arte’, a fascist youth cultural event that was held for the first time in Florence in 1934.

Main Principles

  1. The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts

  2. Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths

  3. Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity


The authors of 18 BL attempted to actualize Mussolini’s call for a ‘teatro di masse’ (mass theatre), which he envisioned as ‘able to accommodate fifteen thousand or twenty thousand people’ and ‘able to stir great collective passions’, as he stated in a speech held in 1933, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the S.I.A.E. (Società Italiana Autori ed Editori). It was the most significant attempt at producing a ‘teatro di masse per masse’ (‘theatre of masses for masses’), as it was defined by its authors, embodying the corporativist and collectivist ideology of fascism. The play and the production in all their productive and organizational stages were the outcome of a collective collaboration and discipline, which manifested itself, to begin with, in the ambitious writing effort of eight young playwrights, coordinated by prominent Fascist author Alessandro Pavolini.

The play involved a mass cast of about 3000 authors and machines, including 50 18 BL trucks and a squadron of airplanes; and a mass public of about 20.000 spectators. 18 BL was a crucial attempt at creating a new form of fascist national theatre, akin to coeval experiments of mass theatre theorized and produced in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. It was part of the regime’s efforts to generate new artistic forms and products, which would contribute to realize the fascist modernizing mission. The choice of a technological subject and a hero-machine can also be related to the process and the myth of industrial modernization brought about by the dictatorship.

The director Alessandro Blasetti had to face all the difficulties of an open-air theatre and a huge arena, and resorted to cinematographic techniques for lighting, sound, and stage movement. 18 BL thus actualized a ‘total’ concept of theatre, which integrated all the scenic arts and all the dimensions of the spectacle: the stage, the audience, and the natural landscape. This emphasized the celebration of the vital forces of Italian society, engaged in a regeneration of the system grounded in new values such as individual sacrifice, discipline and collective effort, in the interest of the nation. However, the performance was a fiasco and received harsh criticism, especially because of the technical difficulties entailed by managing stage movement on such a gigantic stage, which made it difficult for the audience to follow the unfolding of the play. After 18 BL, the ambition to create a ‘theatre of masses for masses’ was abandoned, and the regime continued its politics of cultural eclecticism also in the field of theatre, directed at fostering a variety of artistic forms, both traditional and more avant-garde, competing with each other.


Schnapp, Jeffrey T. 1993. ‘18 BL: Fascist Mass Spectacle.’ Representations 43: 89-125.

Schnapp, Jeffrey T. 1996. Staging Fascism: 18 BL and the Theatre of Masses for Masses. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Laura Pennacchietti