Childhood & Early Life
Dario Fo was born on March 24, 1926 at Leggiuno Sangiano, a town in the Province of Varese in Italy. He was the eldest child of Felice and Pina Rota Fo. As Felice was a station master for the Italian Railway and was transferred regularly, the family did not stay in one place for long, but moved each time he got a new posting.
Each member of Dario’s family was artistically inclined. Apart from working as a station master, Felice was also an amateur actor and a socialist. Pina Rota wrote a book, titled ‘Il paese delle rane’ on the history of her home town. Moreover, his younger brother Fulvio Fo later became a theatre administrator and sister Bianca Fo Garambois, a writer.
As a child, Dario often visited his maternal grandfather, a farmer in Lomellina. During these visits, he accompanied his grandfather as he travelled around the countryside selling his produce. To attract the attention of the buyers his grandfather would often tell amazing stories and insert in them current news and anecdotes. Sitting beside him Dario had his first lesson in storytelling.
Dario was also fond of sitting in taverns or piazzas visited by master glassblowers and fishermen. He would listen intently as they exchanged spicy and long political news that often bordered on satire. They provided the second lesson in storytelling.
In 1940, Dario was admitted to the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, in Milan. Sometime now, he is conscripted by the fascist army of Mussolini, but deserted his post towards the end of the Second World War. For some time, he lay hidden in a small attic room.
It is believed that he and his family were actually working for the anti-fascist resistant groups. Dario helped his father to smuggle the British soldiers as well as refugees, some of whom were Jewish scientists, into Switzerland, while his mother nursed the wounded.
After the war, Dario returned to Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera and at the same time enrolled at Politecnico di Milano to study architecture. He was soon disillusioned with it and left without acquiring the degree.
Sometime now, he also had a nervous breakdown and as a therapy started painting and joined the piccoli teatri or the small theatre movement. He now concentrated on stage design and gained recognition for his off the cuff monologues.
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Dario Fo’s career took off in 1950, when he caught the attention of Franko Parenti with his rendering of Cain and Abel. Later he was invited by Praneti to take part in his variety show. He impressed the audience with the stories of his upbringing; they were witty but original. Their collaboration lasted until 1954.
In 1955, Fo along with his wife, Franca Rame, moved to Rome in the hope of getting chance in films. Here he started working as a screenwriter for many well-known directors. He finally had his debut in ‘Lo svitato’, a film directed by Carlo Lizzani.
The couple returned to Milan in 1958 and since then has been living here. In 1959, the couple established Campagnia Dario Fo–Franca Rame, a performing company for which Fo wrote scripts, directed the play, acted, designed costumes and stage paraphernalia, while Rame looked after the administration.
It was ‘Gli arcangeli non giocano al flippe’ (Archangels Don't Play Pinball), a two act play first staged in 1959, which brought them international fame. It not only received great reviews in Italy, but was equally appreciated in other countries like Spain, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Poland and Netherland.
In 1962, they had another hit in a satirical show called ‘Canzonissima’. The sketch was aired by the Italy’s national public broadcasting company RAI. It drew million of viewers and at the same time generated great controversies, as a result of which Fo was effectively banned from appearing on Italian television for fourteen years.
His next play ‘Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciballe’ also created great controversy because it tried to demystify Columbus. He received threatening letters and was physically assaulted in Rome and even had garbage thrown at him.
In 1968, Fo moved away from official state theater to establish Associazione Nuova Scena and began to operate from outside the state structure. They performed in community centers and workers’ unions. ‘Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi piccoli i medi’ (Grand Pantomime with Flags and Small and Middle-sized Puppets) is one of his noted creations of this era.
In 1970, Fo and Rame established their third theatre group Collettivo Teatrale ‘La Comune’. For three years, it was based in an abandoned workshop in the suburbs of Milan. The group based their plays mostly on contemporary issues. ‘Morte accidentale di un anarchico (Accidental Death of an Anarchist)’ was written in this period.
In 1973, Franca Rame was abducted, tortured, raped and threatened by agents of Italian federal police for her political activism. Fo was also arrested during a show in November. In spite of that, the couple kept on producing more provocative plays and continued to tour around Lombardy and Veneto. “Mama Togni’ is one such play.
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By and by, they began to provoke foreign governments as well. In 1980, The United States government barred both of them from performing at Festival of Italian Theatre, held in USA. It created uproar among theatre lovers.
In May 1980, ‘An Evening without Dario Fo and Franca Rame’ was held in New York. It was attended by many well-known intellectuals, including Arthur Miller, Bernard Malamud, Richard Foreman and Martin Scorsese. The event featured reading of Fo’s letter and the first act of his play ‘Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga!’
In 1983, the US authorities, barred Fo and Rame from entering the country once again. This time the charge was that they aided the terrorists. In 1987, they were accused of blasphemy by the Vatican for their play ‘The First Miracle of Infant Jesus’.
Nonetheless, Fo continued writing on contemporary issues such as Tiananmen Square tragedy, AIDS, Gulf War and even genetic experiment. In all, he has written seventy plays; some of which are co-authored by Rame. His latest work, ‘C'é un re pazzo in Danimarca’ (There's a mad king in Denmark), was written in 2015.
Morte accidentale di un anarchico (1974; Accidental Death of an Anarchist) is undoubtedly one of Fo’s most popular works. Considered a classic 20th century theatre, it has been performed in more than 40 countries across the world. It is a farce based on the life of anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli; but the events are all fictional.
’Non si paga, non si paga!’ (1974; We Can’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!) is another of his internationally acclaimed plays. It was translated in English in 1975 and by 1990, it had been performed in 35 countries. It is a Marxist political farce about backlash by the consumers against high prices.
As an actor, Fo is best known for his ‘Mistero Buffo’ (1973; Comic Mystery). The drama is based on medieval mystery plays. However, it was so topical that the shows changed with the change of venue.
Personal Life & Legacy
Dario Fo married Franca Rame on June 24, 1954. She hailed from a theatrical family and was an actress and writer in her right. The couple had a close bonding and they worked together in all projects. She died on May 29, 2013 at the age of 83.
Dario and Franca’s only child, Jacopo Fo, is also a writer, actor and director. Born on March 31, 1955, he worked with his parents to try and educate the people about AIDS, sexual repression and contraception. His book ‘Lo Zen e l'arte di scopare’ (Zen and the Art of Fucking, 1972) sold more than 70,000 copies.