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Dario Fo (born March 24, 1926) is an Italianmarker satirist, playwright, theater director, actor, and composer. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. His dramatic work employs comedic methods of the ancient Italian commedia dell'arte, a theatrical style popular with the proletarian classes. He currently owns and operates a theatre company with his wife, the leading actress Franca Rame.


Early years

Fo was born in Sangianomarker, in the province of Varese, near the eastern shore of Lago Maggioremarker. His father Felice was a station master 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 Milanmarker to study architecture at the Brera Academymarker, but World War II intervened. His family was active in anti-fascist resistance and reputedly he helped his father to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers to Switzerlandmarker. Near the end of the war, Fo was conscripted into the army of the Republic of Salò, but he escaped and managed to hide for the remainder of the war.

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 theater 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 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 RAImarker, 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 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. 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 Romemarker. Fo became a screenwriter and worked for many productions, including those of Dino De Laurentiis. Their son Jacopo was born on 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 the Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame (Dario Fo-Franca Rame Theater Company). Fo wrote scripts, acted, directed, and designed costumes and stage paraphernalia. Rame took care of the administrative jobs. The company débuted in Piccolo Teatro and then left for the first of its annual tours all over Italy.

1960s and success

In 1960 they 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 Swedenmarker and Polandmarker.

In 1962 Fo wrote and directed a game show, Canzonissima, for RAI. Fo used the show to depict lives of commoners and it became a success. However, an episode about a journalist who was killed by 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 Romemarker. On this occasion it was the Italian Communist Party which provided security for Fo and Rame. This event is recounted by Fo 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 assassinationmarker 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 Zagrebmarker in Yugoslaviamarker.

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 a 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 membership of the party.

Dario Fo withdrew all rights to perform his plays in Czechoslovakiamarker in protest after Warsaw Pact forces crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, and refused to accept cuts demanded by Sovietmarker 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 a lot of 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. The most famous Italian storytellers are Marco Paolini, Laura Curino, Ascanio Celestini, Davide Enia and Andrea Cosentino.


However, in 1970 Fo and Rame left Nuova Scena due to political differences. They began their third theatre group, Collettivo Teatrale La Commune. 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 Palestinemarker 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. 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, a play 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 Chinamarker. Fo was also nominated for the Nobel prize for the first time.

In 1976 a 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, the Vatican described it as "blasphemous" and Italian right-wingers complained. Regardless, Franca Rame received an IDI prize for the 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 publicly.

1980s, 1990s and the Nobel Prize

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

In 1981 Cambridge's American Repertory Theatermarker invited Fo to perform in the Italian Theatre Festival in New York. The United States Department of Statemarker initially refused to grant Fo 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 at Harvard Universitymarker, Repertory Theater, the Yale Repertory Theatermarker, Washington's Kennedy Centermarker, Baltimoremarker's Theatre of Nations and New York's Joyce Theatre.

Despite the acclaim, there were still troubles. In 1983 Italian censors rated Coppia Aperta forbidden to anyone under 18. During a performance in Argentinamarker, 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 Tiananmen Massacremarker. In the same year he was the first Italian to stage a play in the Comédie Françaisemarker.

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

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

On October 9, 1997 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium).

In his works Dario Fo has criticized—among others—Catholic policy on abortion, political murders, organized crime, political corruption and the 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. 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 he is so fond of.

In 2006, Dario Fo made a failed attempt to run for mayor of Milanmarker, 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% of votes, was supported by the Communist Refoundation Party.

Fo's wife Franca Rame was elected as senator for the Italy of Values party in the Italian general election held on April 9 and 10, 2006.

Fo questions the official account of the September 11 attacks and the collapse of WTC buildings in the movie Zero

Selected works

Note: These are the English names of the works.

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.


  • D'Angeli, Concetta and Simone Soriani (eds). Coppia d'arte - Dario Fo e Franca Rame, Pisa, Edizioni Plus, 2006.
  • Behan, Tom. Dario Fo. Revolutionary Theater, London, Pluto Press, 2000.
  • Farrell, Joseph. Dario Fo & Franca Rame. Harlequins of the revolution, Methuen 2001.
  • Farrell, Joseph and Antonio Scuderi (eds). Dario Fo: Stage, Text and Tradition, Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.
  • Mitchell, Tony. Dario Fo. People's court jester, London, Methuen, 1999.
  • Pizza, Marisa. Al lavoro con Dario Fo e Franca Rame, Roma, Bulzoni, 2006.
  • Pizza, Marisa. La parola, il gesto, l'azione, Roma, Bulzoni, 1996.
  • Puppa, Paolo. Il teatro di Dario Fo, Vnezia, Marsilio, 1978.
  • Scuderi, Antonio. Dario Fo and Popular Performance, Legas 1998.
  • Soriani, Simone. Dario Fo. Dalla commedia al monologo (1959-1969), Corazzano (PI), Titivillus, 2007.
  • Valentini, Chiara. La storia di Dario Fo, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1997.

External links

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