Dario Fo

Dario Fo (born March 24, 1926), is an Italian satirist playwright, theater director and composer. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. He uses methods of commedia dell'arte and works closely with his wife Franca Rame.

Dario Fo was born March 26 1926 in San Giano, in the Italian province of Varese. His father Felce was a railway station master, amateur actor and socialist. The family moved constantly when his father was transferred between posts. He learned storytelling from his maternal grandfather and Lombardian fishers and glassblowers.

In 1940 Fo moved to Milan to study in Brera Art Academy but the World War Two intervened. His family was active in anti-fascist resistance and reputedly he helped his father to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers to Switzerland. Dario was conscripted into the army of Salo republic in the end of the war but he escaped and managed to hide for the rest of the war.

After the War, Fo continued his studies of architecture in Milan, commuting every day from Lago Maggiore before the rest of the family moved to Milan. Fo begun to be involved in the movement of piccoli teatri [small theatres] where he begun to present improvised monologues. In 1950 he begun to work for a theatre company of Franco Parenti and gradually abandoned his work as a assistant architect.

In 1951 Dario Fo met Franca Rame, daughter of a theatrical family, when they were working in the production of revue Sette giorni a Milano. After a slow start, they became engaged. In the same year he was invited to perform a radio play Cocorico in RAI, Italian national radio. He made 18 satirical monologues where he varied biblical tales to make them political satire. Scandalized authorities cancelled the show.

In 1953 he wrote and directed a satirical play Il dito nell'occhio. After initial success both government and church authorities censured him and the theater company had trouble to find a theatre to perform it. Public did appreciate the show.

Franca Rame And Dario Fo were married in June 24 1954. Fo worked in the Piccolo Teatro in Milan but his satires suffered more censure although they remained popular.

In 1955 Fo and Rame worked in movie production in Rome. Fo became a screenwriter and worked for many productions, including those of Dino De Laurentis. Their son Jacopo was born in March 31. Rame worked in Teatro Stabile of Bolzano. In 1956 Fo and Rame were together in the Carlo Lizzani's film Lo svitato. Other movies followed.

In 1959 Fo and Rame returned to Milan and founded a theater company Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame. Fo wrote scripts, acted, directed and designed costumes and stage paraphernalia. Rame took care of the administrative jobs. The company deputed in Piccolo Teatro and them left for the first of its annual tours all over the Italy. In 1960 they gained national recognition with Archangels Don't Play Pinball in Milan's Teatro Odeon. Other successes followed. In 1961 Fo's plays begun to play in Sweden and Poland.

In 1962 Fo's wrote and directed a game show Canzonissima for RAI. Fo used the show to depict lives of commoners and it become a success. However, an episode about a journalist who was killed by Mafia annoyed politicians and Fo and Rame received death threats and were placed under police protection. They left the show when RAI made more cuts to the program. Italian Actor's Union told its members to refuse to became their replacements. Fo and Rame were forbidden from RAI for the next 15 years. They continued their work in Teatro Odeon.

In 1962 their play about Christopher Columbus annoyed right wing groups and caused violent attacks. Italian Communist party supplied bodyguards.

La Signorina Ŕ da buttare (1967) made topical comments on Vietnam, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Kennedy assassination. US government saw it as being disrespectful for the president Johnson and Fo was denied visa to USA for years afterwards under the McClaren Act.

Fo gained international fame with Archangels Don't Play Pinball when it was performed in Zagreb (then in Yugoslavia).

In 1968 Fo and Rame founded Associazione Nuova Scena theater collective with movable stages. It toured in Italy. In Milan, it turned an abandoned factory into a theater. It became a home of another new company, Il Capannone di Via Colletta. The collective had links to Italian Communist Party but Fo openly criticized also their methods and policies in his plays. Soon communist press disliked him as much as the catholic one and many openings were cancelled. Fo had never been a member but the conflict made Rame resign her membership of the party.

Dario Fo withdrew all rights to perform his plays in Czechoslovakia after Warsaw Pact forces crushed Prague Spring in 1968 as a protest and refused to accept cuts demanded by soviet censors. Productions of his plays in eastern block ended.

In 1969 Fo presented for the first time Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery), a play of monologues based on the mix of medieval plays and topical issues. It was popular and had 5000 performances even in sports arenas.

However, in 1970 Fo and Rame left Nuova Scena due to political differences. They begun their third theatre group, Colletivo Teatrale La Comune. It produced plays based on improvisation about contemporary issues with lots of revisions. Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970) criticized abuse of forces of law and order; he wrote it after a terrorist attack on the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Milan. Fedayin (1971) was about a volatile situation in Palestine and performers included genuine PLO members. 1971-1985 the group donated part of its income to support strikes of Italian labor organizations

In 1973 the company moved to Rossini Cinema in Milan. When Fo criticized police in one of his plays, police raids and censorship increased. In March 8 a fascist band kidnapped Franca Rame and tortured and raped her. Rame returned to the stage after two months with a new anti-fascist monologues.

Later in the year the company occupied an abandoned market building in Central Milan and dubbed in the Palazzina Liberty. They opened in September with Guerra di popolo in Cile, a play about a rebellion against Chilean military government. It had been written due to murder of Salvador Allende. Fo was arrested when he tried to prevent police stopping the play. 1974 play We Can┤t Pay? We Won't Pay! was a farce about the self-reduction movement where woman (and men) would take what the wanted from markets, only paying what they could afford. In 1975 Fo wrote Fanfani rapito in support of for a referendum for the legalization of abortion. In the same year they visited China. Fo was also nominated for the Nobel prize for the first time.

In 1976 new RAI director invited Fo to do a new program, Il teatro di Dario (Dario's Theatre). However, when Mistero Buffo's second version was presented in the TV in 1977, Vatican described it as “blasphemous” and Italian right-wingers complained. Regardless, Franca Rame receives a IDI prize for the best TV actress.

In 1978 Fo made the third version of Mystero Buffo. He also rewrote and directed La Atoria di an soldato (Story of a Soldier), based on Igor Sravinsky's opera. It was a success. Later he had also adapted operas from Rossini. He also wrote a play about the murder of Aldo Moro but it has not been performed publicly.

In 1980 Fo and family founded a retreat the Libera UniversitÓ di Alcatraz in the hills near Gubbio and Perugia. They bought the valley bit by bit. It is currently run by Jacopo Fo.

In 1981 Cambridge's America Repertory Theater invited Fo to perform in the Italian Theatre Festival in New York. The United States Department of State initially refused to grant Fo's a visa but agreed to issue a six-day one in 1984 after various US writers protested against the ruling. In 1985 they received another one and performed in Harvard University, Repertory Theater, the New Haven University Repertory Theatre, Washington's Kennedy Center, Baltimore's Theater of Nations and New York's Joyce Theater.

Despite of the acclaim, there were still trouble. In 1983 Italian censors rated Coppia Aperta to forbidden to anyone under 18. During a performance in Argentina, a saboteur threw a tear gas grenade and the further performances were disturbed by youths who threw stones on the windows. Catholics picketed the performance with large religious pictures.

In 1989 he wrote Lettera dalla Cina in protest of the Tienanmen Massacre. In the same year he was the first Italian to stage a play in the ComÚdie Franšaise.

In 1981 Fo received a Sonning Award from Copenhagen University, 1985 a Premio Eduardo Award and in 1986 the Obie Award in New York and in 1987 Agro Dolce Prize. In October 9 1997 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In July 17 1995, Fo suffered cerebral ischaemia and lost most of his sight. Franca Rame took his place in productions for a time. Fo was fortunate and almost recovered within a year.

In his works Dario Fo has criticized – among others - Catholic policy an abortion, political murders, organized crime, political corruption and middle-east crisis. His plays often depend on improvisation, commedia dell'arte style. His plays – especially Mistero Buffo - have been translated to 30 languages and when they are performed outside Italy, they are often modified to reflect local political and other issues.

Selected works

(English names)

Books:

  • Manuale Minimo dell'Attore (The Tricks of the Trade, 1987)

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