3. Dario Fo's lesson

Dario Fo was born in a small village in the province of Varese in Lombardy in 1926. Graduating in painting at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, he worked as an architect and at the same time began his artistic activity with a radio comedy program and later dedicated himself to magazine theatre. Here he met Franca Rame who would become his wife and the work partner with whom he would build together the long and intense theatrical artistic activity.

Fo-Rame was formed as the company in 1958. The name of Dario Fo is linked to the revival of the Commedia dell'Arte in Italy. On the basis of a meticulous philological study Fo engages a clown gesture, modern therefore, which takes its cue from the minor theatre and the variety, thus creating traditional characters able to speak to the public of the twentieth century. It is a leitmotiv that we also find in the numerous written comedies (Fo is the most translated Italian theatre author in the world). Reaching the lower strata of society and giving them a voice, shaking consciences on social issues (limitations on individual and gender freedoms, cultural backwardness, injustice), and policies (corruption, population control, etc.). The goal is to strike at power, unmask its lies and at the same time avoid the harsh blows of censorship: for this reason the works have the structure of farce dilated and enriched by elements of satire of custom. He is also linked to the phenomenon of grammelot, an invented language in which the words of complete meaning, necessary for the understanding of the story, are very few and alternate with phonemes and sounds without meaning but coherent, rich in communicative and effectiveness that combined with its essential gestures and a precise proxemics have given rise to memorable monologues that are part of the history of the theatre (History of the tiger, Funny mystery...). Together with Franca they go to the Middle East, battered by war, and become witnesses and then narrators of the terrible human tragedies, especially related to women.

In the Manuale Minimo dell'Attore (Einaudi 1987), then republished with the title Nuovo Manuale Minimo dell'Attore (Chiarelettere 2015), through the stories of his experience, he makes us understand the meaning of his theatre (a free theatre without conventions blocked with a propensity to the impossible: we do not start from the real but we rebuild) and the profession of the actor. At the beginning he will have to get rid of everything that is known and conventional of the theatre (a bit like what happened to himself when he met Franca Rame. belonging to a family of theatre performers for generations). Know all the crafts of the theatre: lights, acoustics, scenography to understand their concomitance with the text. Destroy the fourth wall. The actor must see the spectators, pull them on stage with him; for this reason, he must know the tricks of the trade: the rhythm, the improvisation, the confidential game, the lowering of the voice, the shouting inappropriately. It must have synthesis and not be redundant.... Do not delete but play with the unexpected, even create it if necessary. Represent not act. The actor he represents becomes a lived presence, he tells something that is his. The actor is generous and must expose himself. The viewer should not be considered a “voyeur” who is in the dark on the other side but be involved, frightened, hit, called into question.

The company has always supported and encouraged associations, and the world of municipalities. Dario Fo speaks of the “joy and pleasure of creating an active community”; to their shows came workers, peasants, students, ordinary people who told them their stories with the request to represent them and make them known to the world and in fact in many cases the company and these people gathered, listened to each other and worked together on theatrical texts. Very important was the parenthesis of the Palazzina Liberty, (famous all over the world, Fo-Rame never had an institutional space to produce their shows) a building of the early twentieth century that since 1974 was granted in use to the Dario Fo’s “Collettivo teatrale la Comune” by the Municipality of Milan, which shortly after reclaims it under internal political pressure. Despite the various disputes and even violent attempts to steal the building, the Company produces and realizes the shows until 1980.

Another important aspect in Fo's research is the documentation, the textual search of sources on topics, texts, and characters. In this way he contributed to the rediscovery of Angelo Beolco known as “Il Ruzzante” (fine sixteenth-century author of comedies). Rereading in an unorthodox way some pieces of Italian culture, he created shows such as Johan Padan and the discovery of the Americas, making a character of the people’s protagonists of the most important historical event of the Renaissance and offering an anticolonialist perspective in a tragicomic way. In Lo santo jullare Francesco gives space to his well-known anticleri-calism drawing on historical reality and popular tradition and outlines a courageous, ironic, provocative and current saint.

In 1997 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature with an emphasis in the motivation: “following the tradition of medieval jesters, he mocks power by restoring dignity to the oppressed”. His comment was: “With me they wanted to reward the people of the theatre.” A political theatre, of protest, of struggle, an uncomfortable theatre, deeply rooted in Italian history and society but capable of being a classic without place and without time. There were occasions when Fo and Rame were hit hard by the repression of the state: Dario Fo was once put in prison, his wife was the victim of rape by a group of militant men of the extreme right (and on which the shadow of a principal among the high levels of the police lies). Sometimes theatres were set on fire just before their show or performances brutally interrupted by police. Then they had to deal with the now waning institution of censorship. The control of the texts forced them to a very hard work that had to be done, even at the last moment before going on stage, to adapt the show so that the same desecrating charge could be maintained by circumventing the controls of censorship, sometimes so culturally backward that it was not able to recognize the provocativeness of the work. It is known that jokingly the author thanked the censorship that led to a creative effort and to a whole research otherwise not achievable!

In the last period Dario Fo was also directly involved in politics by supporting a movement born from below against the traditional political system, but the most important political commitment has certainly led him to carrying on until the end, even after the loss of his beloved wife; his instances of a free theatre and denunciation where the protagonists are the last and the marginalized.