Dario Fo

Dario Fo
Dario Fo
Born March 24, 1926 (1926-03-24) (age 85)
Sangiano, Italy
Occupation Playwright
Nationality Italian
Genres Drama
Literary movement Small Theatres
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Dario Fo (born March 24, 1926) is an Italian satirist, playwright, theater director, actor and composer. His dramatic work employs comedic methods of the ancient Italian commedia dell'arte, a theatrical style popular with the working classes. He currently owns and operates a theatre company with his wife, actress Franca Rame. He was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature, with the committee highlighting him as a writer "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden".[1]

Fo's works are characterised by criticisms of — among others — organized crime, political corruption, political murders, Catholic policy on abortion and conflict in the Middle East. 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. Fo encourages directors and translators to modify his plays as they see fit, as he finds this in accordance to the commedia dell'arte tradition of on-stage improvisation.

Fo campaigned for mayor of Milan in 2006, finishing in second place.



Early years

Fo was born in Sangiano, in the province of Varese, near the eastern shore of Lago Maggiore. His father Felice was a stationmaster for the Italian state railway, and the family frequently moved when Felice was transferred to new postings. Felice was also an amateur actor and a socialist. Fo learned storytelling from his maternal grandfather and Lombard fishers and glassblowers.

In 1940 Fo moved to Milan to study architecture at the Brera Academy, but World War II intervened. His family was active in the anti-fascist Resistance and reputedly he helped his father to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers to Switzerland. His father also helped smuggle Jewish scientists into Switzerland.[2] Near the end of the war, Fo was a volunteer in the paratroopers of the Republic of Salò. Fo escaped Mussolini's conscription and hid in an attic.[2]

After the war Fo continued his architectural studies in Milan. Initially he commuted from Lago Maggiore, but soon his family moved to Milan. There Fo became involved in the piccoli teatri (small theatres) movement, in which he began to present improvised monologues. In 1950 he began to work for Franco Parenti's theatre company, and gradually abandoned his work as an assistant architect.

Relationship with Franca Rame

In 1951 Fo met Franca Rame, daughter of a theatrical family, when they were working in the revue Sette giorni a Milano, and they eventually became engaged. In 1951 he was invited to perform a radio play Cocorico on RAI (Italian national radio). He made 18 satirical monologues where he adapted biblical tales as political satire. Scandalized authorities cancelled the show.

In 1953 Fo wrote and directed a satirical play Il dito nell'occhio. After initial success both government and Church authorities censored his work and the theater company had trouble finding theaters in which to perform it. The public did appreciate the show.

Franca Rame and Dario Fo were married on June 24, 1954. They had a son, Jacopo Fo (born 31 March 1955), who became a writer.

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 Laurentiis. 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 the Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame. Fo wrote scripts, acted, directed, and designed costumes and stage paraphernalia. Rame took care of the administration. The company débuted in Piccolo Teatro and then initiated its first annual nationwide tour.

1960s (Rise to success)

In 1960 Fo and Rame gained national recognition with Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper ("Archangels Don't Play Pinball") in Milan's Teatro Odeon. Other successes followed. In 1961 Fo's plays began to play in Sweden and Poland.

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

In 1962 Fo's play about Christopher Columbus, Isabella, Three Tall Ships, and a Con Man was subject to violent attacks by fascist groups in Rome. On this occasion it was the Italian Communist Party which provided security for Fo and Rame. Fo recounted this event in the prologue of Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas.

La Signora è da buttare (1967) made topical comments on the Vietnam War, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The US government saw it as being disrespectful to President Johnson, and Fo was denied a US visa for years afterwards under the McCarran-Walter Act.

Fo gained international fame with "Archangels Don't Play Pinball" when it was performed in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

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

Fo withdrew all rights to perform his plays in Czechoslovakia in protest after Warsaw Pact forces crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, and refused to accept cuts demanded by Soviet censors. Productions of his plays in the Eastern Bloc ended.

In 1969 Fo presented for the first time Mistero Buffo ("Comic Mystery"), a play of monologues based on a mix of medieval plays and topical issues. It was popular and had 5000 performances – some even in sports arenas. Mistero Buffo influenced many young actors and authors: it can be considered the formative moment of what Italians used to call teatro di narrazione, a kind of theatre in which there are no characters playing a dramatic role, similar to popular storytelling.


Dario Fo in Cesena (2008)

In 1970 Fo and Rame left Associazione Nuova Scena due to political differences. They began their third theatre group, Collettivo Teatrale La Comune. It produced plays based on improvisation about contemporary issues. 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. From 1971 to 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. On March 8, a fascist group, commissioned by high ranking officials in Milan's Carabinieri, the Italian federal police, kidnapped Franca Rame, torturing and raping her.[3] Rame returned to the stage after two months with new anti-fascist monologues.

Later in that year, the company occupied an abandoned market building in Central Milan and dubbed it the Palazzina Liberty. They opened in September with Guerra di popolo in Cile, about a rebellion against Chilean military government. It had been written because of the murder of Salvador Allende. Fo was arrested when he tried to prevent police from stopping the play. The 1974 play Can't Pay? Won't Pay! was a farce about the self-reduction movement where women (and men) would take what they wanted from markets, only paying what they could afford. In 1975 Fo wrote Fanfani rapito in support of 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 the new director of RAI2, Massimo Fichera, invited Fo to make a new program, Il teatro di Dario (Dario's Theatre). However, when the second edition of Mistero Buffo' was shown on TV in 1977, the Vatican described it as "blasphemous" and the Italian Right complained. Nevertheless, Franca Rame was awarded an IDI prize for best TV actress.

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


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

In 1981 Cambridge's American 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 a visa but agreed to issue a six-day visa in 1984 after various US writers protested the ruling. In 1985 he received another visa and performed at Harvard University, Repertory Theater, the Yale Repertory Theater, Washington's Kennedy Center, Baltimore's Theatre of Nations and New York's Joyce Theatre.

Despite the acclaim, Fo continued to experience problems. In 1983 Italian censors rated Coppia Aperta forbidden to anyone under 18. During a performance in Argentina, a saboteur threw a tear gas grenade, and performances were disturbed by youths who threw stones at the windows. Catholics picketed the performance with large religious pictures.

In 1989 Fo wrote Lettera dalla Cina to protest the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

In 1981 Fo received a Sonning Prize from Copenhagen University; in 1985 a Premio Eduardo Award; in 1986 the Obie Award in New York; in 1987 the Agro Dolce Prize.

1990s (Nobel Prize for Literature)

On July 17, 1995, Fo suffered a stroke and lost most of his sight; Rame subsequently took his place in productions for awhile. Fo recovered almost fully within a year.

On October 9, 1997 he was announced as that year's Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium).

2000s (Bid for mayor)

In 2006 Fo made an attempt to run for mayor of Milan, the most economically important city of Italy, finishing second in the primary election held by the centre-left The Union. Fo, who obtained over 20 percent of votes, was supported by the Communist Refoundation Party.

Franca Rame was elected as senator for the Italy of Values party in the 2006 Italian general election held on April 9 and 10. As of 2010 Fo and Rame are independent members of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC – Partito della Rifondazione Comunista).[4] He remains an active participant and campaigner on various political, social and cultural issues.[5]

Fo questions the official account of the September 11 attacks and the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings in the movie Zero.

Selected works

Note: These are the English names of the works.

  • Archangels Don't Play Pinball (1959)
  • He Had Two Pistols with White and Black Eyes (1960)
  • He Who Steals a Foot is Lucky in Love (1961)
  • Isabella, Three Tall Ships, and a Con Man (1963)
  • Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery, 1969)
  • The Worker Knows 300 Words, the Boss 1000, That's Why He's the Boss (1969)
  • Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970)
  • Fedayin (1971)
  • We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! (Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga!) (aka Can't Pay? Won't Pay!) (1974)
  • Mama's Marijuana is the Best (1976)
  • All House, Bed, and Church (1977)
  • The Tale of a Tiger (1978)
  • Trumpets and Raspberries (1981)
  • The Open Couple (1983)
  • Elizabeth: Almost by Chance a Woman (1984)
  • One was Nude and One wore Tails (1985)
  • Abducting Diana (1986) – Adapted to English in 1996 by Stephen Stenning
  • The Tricks of the Trade (Manuale minimo dell'attore) [1987] (1991)[6]
  • The Zeedonk and the Shoe (1988)
  • The Pope and the Witch (1989)
  • A Woman Alone (1991)
  • Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (1992)
  • The Devil with Boobs (1997)
  • The First Miracle of the Infant Jesus
  • Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo
  • About Face
  • The Virtuous Burglar
  • Francis The Holy Jester (2009)

English translations

A number of Fo's plays have been translated into the English language, including Abducting Diana and St Francis – The Holy Jester which is on a 2009 tour of southern England. St Francis- The Holy Jester was published by Beautiful Books Limited (UK) in May 2009.


  1. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1997". Nobelprize. October 7, 2010. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1997/. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Alex Duval Smith (2005-10-14). "A Nobel Calling: 100 Years of Controversy". The Independent (news.independent.co.uk). http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article319509.ece. Retrieved 2008-04-26. "1997: As a young man, the author of Accidental Death of an Anarchist was conscripted into Mussolini's army towards the end of the war, but escaped and hid in an attic. [...] His father played a key role in the Resistance during the Second World War, smuggling Jewish scientists into Switzerland." 
  3. ^ Review article on biography of Rame and Fo which mentions the rape
  4. ^ (Italian) Info on the official PRC website (Regional Federation of Lombardy)
  5. ^ Fo is still the enemy of power and corruption, The Tribune, March 2011
  6. ^ Dario Fo The tricks of the trade, Routledge, 1991 ISBN 0878300082

External links

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