In addition to playwright, Dario Fo is also director, stage and costume designer, and on occasion he even composes the music for his plays.
France Rame, his leading actress, has assisted in and contributed to the writing of many of the plays they have produced in their 45 years of theatre together. She has also assumed the administrative and organizational responsibility for the Fo-Rame Company.
Franca Rame was born in Parabiago, a small town in the Province of Milan. That she happened to be born there was pure chance: her family was performing in the town at the time. Her father Domenico, her mother Emilia and her brother, along with aunts, uncles, cousins and other actors and actresses hired on contract, were all part of a travelling theatre troupe touring the towns and villages of Lombardy and Piedmont.
The Rame family’s ties to the theatre are very old. Since the late 17th century, they have been actors, and puppet masters, as the occasion required.
With the arrival of the cinema they shifted from puppet theatre to real theatre, enriched with all the “special effects” of the puppet theatre. They travelled from town to town, and were well received wherever they went.
Even today, her personal success in theatre and television notwithstanding, people in these towns still often refer to Franca as “the daughter of Domenico Rame”. In the best tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte, the family improvised its performances, drawing on a rich repertoire of tragic and comical situations and dialogues.
They often opened in a new town – following a poll among the townspeople – with an enactment of the life of the local patron saint.
The family’s repertoire ranged from the biblical texts over Shakespeare to Chekhov and Pirandello; from Niccodemi to the great l9th century historical novels – especially those with a socialist or anticlerical bent. Often their performances included enactments of the lives of men such as Giordano Bruno, Arnaldo da Brescia and Galileo Galilei.
Domenico Rame was the troupe’s poet; a devout socialist, he often saw to it that the revenue from a performance was given in support of striking workers or used to build child-care facilities, or in other ways spent to improve the lives of the common people. The minutely documented records of this activity, which remains in the Rame-Fo archives, was probably maintained by Franca’s mother Emilia Baldini, a school teacher and daughter of a municipal engineer in Bobbio.
As a young school teacher, Emilia fell in love with Domenico – twenty years her senior – who was passing through Bobbio with his marionettes and puppets. She married him, against the strong wishes of her family, and together they continued to tour all of Lombardy. Emilia soon learned the trades of acting and costume designer. It was she who taught their four children to act and to move on the stage. She was an outstanding woman, meticulous in all her work and an excellent organizer. In the end it was she who carried the troupe on her shoulders.
It was in this environment that Franca earned her apprenticeship. She has always felt at home on the stage because – as she says – “I was born there: I was only eight days old when I made my debut in my mother’s arms [she played the new-born son of Geneviève of Brabant] … I didn’t say much that evening! “
Some years later, in the 1950-51 theatre season, Franca – following the lead of her sister Pia – left the family and joined the company of Tino Scotti for a part in Marcello Marchesi’s “Ghe pensi mi” at the Teatro Olimpia in Milan.
Dario Fo was born on 24 March 1926 in San Giano, a small town on Lago Maggiore in the province of Varese. His family consisted of: his father Felice, socialist, station master and actor in an amateur theatre company; his mother Pina Rota, a woman of great imagination and talent (in the 1970s her autobiographical account “Il paese delle rane”, telling the history of her home town, was published by Einaudi); his brother Fulvio and his sister Bianca; and his maternal grandfather, who had a farm in Lomellina, where young Dario spent his childhood vacations.
During Dario’s visits, his grandfather would travel around the countryside selling his produce from a big, horse-drawn wagon. To attract customers he would tell the most amazing stories, and in these stories he would insert news and anecdotes about local events. His satirical and timely chronicles earned him the nickname Bristìn (pepper seed). It was from his grandfather, sitting beside him on the big wagon, that Dario began to learn the rudiments of narrative rhythm.
Dario spent his childhood moving from one town to another, as his father’s postings were changed at the whim of the railway authorities. But even though the geography remained in a flux, the cultural setting was always the same. As the boy grew, he became schooled in the local narrative tradition. With growing passion, he would sit in the taverns or the piazze and listen tirelessly to the master glass-blowers and fishermen, who – in the oral tradition of the fabulatore – would swap tall tales, steeped in pungent political satire.
In 1940 he moved to Milan (commuting from Luino) to study at the Brera Art Academy. After the war, he begins to study architecture at the Polytechnic, but interrupts his studies with only a few exams left to complete his degree.
Towards the end of the war, Dario is conscripted into the army of the Salo republic. He manages to escape, and spends the last months of the war hidden in an attic store room. His parents are active in the resistance, his father organizing the smuggling of Jewish scientists and escaped British prisoners of war into Switzerland by train; his mother caring for wounded partisans.
At the end of the war, Dario returns to his studies at the Academy of Brera in Milan while attending courses in architecture at the Polytechnic, commuting each day from his home on Lago Maggiore.
1945-41 he turns his attention to stage design and theatre décor. He begins to improvise monologues.
He moves with his family to Milan. Mamma Fo, in order to help her husband put the three children through college, does her best as a shirt-maker.
For the younger Fos, this is a period of ravenous reading. Gramsci and Marx are devoured along with American novelists and the first translations of Brecht, Mayakovsky and Lorca.
In the immediate postwar years, Italian theatre undergoes a veritable revolution, pushed along mainly by the new phenomenon of piccoli teatri [“small theatres”] that play a key role in developing the idea of a “popular stage”.
Fo is captured by this effervescent movement and proves to be an insatiable theatregoer – even though he usually can’t afford to buy a seat and has to stand through the performances. Mamma Fo keeps an open mind and an open house for her children’s new acquaintances, among them Emilio Tadini, Alik Cavalieri, Piccoli, Vittorini, Morlotti, Treccani, Crepax, some of them already famous.
During his architecture studies, while working as decorator and assistant architect, Dario begins to entertain his friends with tales as tall as those he heard in the lakeside taverns of his childhood.
In the summer of 1950, Dario seeks out Franco Parenti who is enthralled by the young man’s comical rendering of the parable of Cain and Abel, a satire in which Cain, poer nano [“poor little thing”], a miserable fool, is anything but evil. It’s just that every time he tries, poer nano,to mimic the splendid, blond and blue-eyed Abel, he gets into trouble. After suffering one disaster after another, he finally goes crazy and kills the splendid Abel. Franco Parenti enthusiastically invites Fo to join his theatre company.
Dario starts performing in Parenti’s summer variety show. This is when he has his first “encounter” with Franca Rame – not in person, mind, but in the form of a photograph he sees at the home of some friends. He is thunderstruck!
For a while he continues to work as assistant architect. But he soon decides to abandon his work and studies, disgusted by the corruption already rampant in the building sector.
|Franca Rame and Dario Fo meet by chance: they are both engaged in a production of “Sette giorni a Milano” by Spiller and Carosso, staged by the Nava-Parenti company at the Odeon Theatre in Milan.
Dario’s courting technique is drastic: he pretends not to see Franca. After a couple of weeks of this, she grabs him backstage, pushes him up against a wall and gives him a passionate kiss. They are engaged.
|1951||Fo’s performance is a minor success, and he is invited to participate in RAI’s (the Italian national radio’s) show “Cocoricò”, where he earns a certain notoriety with his “poer nano” monologues, transmitted in 18 episodes. His innovative use of language subverts the rhetoric of “official” narrative. It is the first experiment with a narrative technique that combines re-examination of history with excursions into popular lore, a technique he is later to develop further with “Mistero buffo”. Created in this period are his grotesque renditions of the stories of Cain and Abel, Samson and Delilah, Abraham and Isaac, Romeo and Juliet, Moses, Othello, Rigoletto, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King David, Nero and others.
The series is interrupted after the eighteenth show, as the producers – who are slow to catch on to the social and political satire that permeates the monologues – at last see fit to censure them.
|1951-52||Dario makes his debut with a series of monologues entitled “Poer Nano” (“poor little thing”, an affectionate expression in the Lombard dialect) in the revue “Sette giorni a Milano”, where he meets Franca Rame. Fo’s monologues are a success, leading to an own show on Italian national radio. He becomes a celebrity.|
|1952||“Papaveri e papere”, a film by Marcello Marchesi, with Franca Rame and Walter Chiari. Franca has roles in some ten-odd other commercial films.|
|1952-53||Dario Fo is on stage with the satirical performance “Cocoricò”, with Giustino Durano, Viky Enderson and others. Franca Rame is engaged by Remigio Paone to play in a big revue company, Billi and Riva in “I fanatici” by Marchesi and Mertz, music by Kramer. Teatro Nuovo, Milan.|
|1953-54||For a performance at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, Fo writes, together with Franco Parenti and Giustino Durano, directs (in collaboration with Lecoq) and plays “Il dito nell’occhio”. (He is also responsible for stage design and costumes.) Franca Rame also participates in the production, which is the first really satirical post-war revue. The show sparks both approval and controversy.
The company has difficulty in finding theatres to stage the play. Drastic efforts of censorship by the government as well as the Church: signs on church doors exhort parishioners not to see the play. This becomes a praxis that will hound the Fo-Rame theatre company for many years.
|24 June||Franca and Dario are married in Milan’s Saint Ambrose Basilica. From this moment on, Franca is Fo’s main collaborator behind the desk as well as on the stage.|
|1954-55||Together with Parenti and Durano, Fo writes and at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, directs and plays “I sani da legare”. Also this play is subject to the same type of censorship as is described above. These two plays are the first real satirical postwar revues, and both enjoy great success with the public.|
|1955||Attracted by the possibility to work in the cinema, the couple moves to Rome. Dario works as screen-writer (gag-man) with Age, Scarpelli, Scola and Pinelli, and for Ponti and De Laurentis as well as for other productions.|
|31 March||Their son Jacopo is born.
Franca with Memo Benassi in “King Lear” at the Teatro Stabile of Bolzano.
|1956||Fo writes the script for and plays against Franca Rame in the film “Lo svitato”, directed by Carlo Lizzani.|
|1956-57||Fo collaborates in various film script projects and plays against Franca in several films.|
|1957||Franca Rame in “Non andartene in giro tutta nuda” [“Mais n’te promène donc pas tout nue!”] by G. Feydeau at the Arlecchino Theatre in Rome.|
|1957-58||The “Fo-Rame Company” is established. Franca and Dario return to Milan to establish their own theatre company, with Dario as playwright, actor, director, stage- and costume designer. Franca is Dario’s main text collaborator and leading actress. She also assumes responsibility for the company’s administration.
The Fo-Rame company makes its debut at Milan’s Piccolo Teatro. The company then leaves for a first long, annual tour (there were to be many, lasting up to 10 months and bringing the company to every part of Italy) with a performance entitled “Ladri, manichini e donne nude” and comprising four one-act farces: “l’uomo nudo, l’uomo in frack” [“One Was Nude and One Wore Tails”], “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere” [“The Virtuous Burglar”], “Gli imbianchini non hanno ricordi” and “I cadaveri si spediscono e le donne si spogliano”. The four farces make the most of an endless series of misunderstandings, mistaken identities, people running up and down stairs, gags and slapstick.
|1958-59||“Comica finale” is another collection of four one-act plays: “Quando sarai povero sarai re”, “La Marcolfa”, “Un morto da vendere” and “I tre bravi”. These are short, comical stories structured much like the ones Franca’s family played at the end of their performances (“comic closures”). From the Teatro Stabile, Dario Fo and Franca Rame buy scenery, props and costumes, and set out on tour with their company. They also revive “Ladri, manichini e donne nude”.|
THE FO-RAME COMPANY HAS ITS FIRST OPENING AT A MAJOR, DOWNTOWN THEATRE IN MILAN
|1959-60||With “Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper” [“Archangels Don’t Play Pinball”], at Milan’s Odeon Theatre, The Fo-Rame Company finally earns national recognition. The play becomes the greatest box-office hit in Italian theatre.|
|1960||Fo writes “La storia vera di Piero d’Angera, che alla crociata non c’era”, produced by other companies with great success.|
|1960-61||Teatro Odeon, Milan: “Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianchi e neri”.|
|1961||First performance abroad with his play: “Ladri, manichini e donne nude”, first at Stockholm’s Arena Theatre, then with a production in Poland.|
|1961-62||Teatro Odeon, Milan: “Chi ruba un piede è fortunato in amore”.|
|1962||In the spring, RAI (Italian national television) broadcasts on its second channel the televised variety show “Chi l’ha visto?” with Fo-Rame and others.
Together with Franca Rame, Dario Fo is invited to write, direct and present “Canzonissima”, a highly popular TV show built around the national lottery, with a different host each year. Fo’s and Rame’s sketches become an issue for the entire nation, provoking wild controversy. For the first time, television is used to portray the lives and difficulties of common people: the work-related illness of a signal woman, bricklayers that fall to their death from the scaffolding, etc.
The show is very successful; during broadcasts even taxi drivers stop working, and bars with televisions are smack full of people. RAI’s management starts to get nervous. Cuts are demanded in texts that have already been approved. All hell breaks loose over a sketch with a Mafia theme that tells the story of a murdered journalist. Malagodi, a senator from Italy’s Liberal Party, reports the sketch to the Italian Parliament’s oversight committee for television, on the grounds that “the honour of the Sicilian people is insulted by the claim that there exists a criminal organization called the Mafia”. (In 1985, Prime Minister Andreotti appoints Malagodi senator-for-life for his political services.) Fo and Rame also receive death threats, written with blood and delivered with the typical miniature, wooden coffin. The Fo family (including Franca’s and Dario’s seven-year old son) is placed under police protection.
A fight begins with RAI about censorship. Just a few hours before the scheduled broadcast of the eighth programme in the series, RAI’s management declares that further cuts must be made. Dario and Franca refuse and threaten to leave the programme. As “Canzonissima” is about to be aired it is still unclear what is going to happen. At the last minute RAI confirms the cuts. Dario and Franca walk off the show as a sign of protest.
The support they receive for their act is overwhelming, including thousands of letters and telegrams. RAI is unable to find substitutes for Fo and Rame, as all who are asked to replace them follow the instructions of SAI (the Italian actors union) to turn down the offer.
Fo and Rame face five law suits as a consequence and are ordered to pay several billion lire in damages. For 15 years they are banned by RAI from participating in either programmes or commercials on national radio or television (at that time, both radio and television were state monopolies).
|1963-64||Opening at Milan’s Odeon Theatre of “Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe”, which tells the story of the “discovery” of America on the basis of a thorough historical investigation of the life of Christopher Columbus, the court of Isabella of Castille and the “ethnic cleansing” of Spain’s Arabs and Jews. The play marks the beginning of a major effort to trace the history and “dogmas” of the dominant culture. The play, blatantly exposing the mystifications of “school-book” history and of militarist and patriotic rhetoric, comes under violent attack by right-wing groups. On one occasion, Fo and Rame are assaulted as they leave the Valle Theatre in Rome. Only through the presence of groups of militant workers from the Italian Communist Party (PCI) can the performances continue.|
|1964-65||“Settimo: ruba un po’ meno” opens at the Odeon in Milan. The play is dedicated to Franca Rame, who in the leading comic role portrays a rather odd grave digger whose highest ambition is to become a prostitute. With its minutely detailed description of the corruption rampant in Italy, it anticipates by some thirty years the revolution brought about by the “Mani Pulite” (“Clean hands”) movement.|
|1965-66||Milan’s Odeon Theatre: “La colpa è sempre del diavolo”.|
|1966-67||Two productions: “Gli amici della battoniera”, translated from French and adapted by Fo; and “Ci ragiono e canto”, in collaboration with Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano, a performance built on traditional folk songs, compiled by Gianni Bosio and elaborated by Fo.|
|1967||Following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Dario Fo withdraws his permission for his plays to be staged in Czech theatres. He later refuses to authorize cuts, proposed by Soviet censors, in a play scheduled to open at a Soviet theatre. After these incidents, production of his work all but ceases throughout the Soviet block.|
|1967-68||Teatro Manzoni in Milan: “La signora è da buttare”.|
|1968-69||Stimulated by the political events of those years, Dario and Franca disband their company and establish the Associazione Nuova Scena, composed of more than thirty young technicians, actors and actresses. It is an independent theatre collective, organized in three groups that tour Italy with productions staged mainly before working class audiences and at venues other than those offered by the official theatre circuit, such as case del popolo (workers’ community halls), sport arenas, cinemas, boccia courts, town squares, etc. To allow mobility and use of available space, foldable stages are built on Dario’s design. Nuova Scena’s first production opens at the Casa del popolo in Cesena (Romagna) with a performance of “Grande pantomima per pupazzi piccoli, grandi e medi”. The production is also staged at Milan’s Union Hall and is played on tour. Back in Milan, Nuova Scena – encountering difficulties in finding a fixed venue – rents an old, abandoned factory which it transforms into a theatrical centre. The centre becomes the home stage of a new company, Il Capannone di Via Colletta, supported by the theatre collective and by a large group of members: workers and students who contribute with their creativity and practical skills.|
|1969-70||At Genua’s Union Hall and in various localities, Franca Rame is on stage with two new comic productions by Fo: “L’operaio conosce 300 parole, il padrone 1000, per questo lui è il padrone” and a double feature consisting of two one-act farces: “Legami pure, tanto spacco tutto lo stesso” and “Il funeral e del padrone”. Because of the plays’ expressed critique of Stalinism and of the social-democratic position of the Italian Communist Party, the tour is heavily sabotaged by the Party leadership. Some ten-odd performances are cancelled. The situation is very tense, Franca’s planned opening at Milan’s Union Hall is cancelled. Instead she is invited to play at the “Circus Medini”, a real circus with horses, tigers, lions and elephants, luckily all kept in cages around the tent. After some initial difficulties, the production can continue – thanks to support organized among the Party rank and file and among the extraparliamentary left – to enjoy great public success. Franca sends her Party card back to PCI Secretary Enrico Berlinguer (Dario has never been a member).
Dario stages “Mistero buffo” [“Mistero Buffo”]. The performance takes the form of a lesson in the history of literature that departs from a questioning of school dogma, in particular the text-book interpretation of the earliest known text in Italian (“Rosa fresca e aulentissima”), in which the text’s blatant – and scurrilous – allusion to the feminine genitalia is altogether censored. The actor reconstructs the language of the medieval jesters, reciting their monologues in such a way as to make them accessible to a wide audience today. The play is a terrific success; it even becomes necessary to stage it at sport arenas that can hold thousands. It is the play that more than any other establishes Fo’s fame worldwide. More than 5000 performances.
Due to political differences, Dario Fo and Franca Rame leave “Nuova Scena”. The “Collettivo Teatrale La Comune” sees the light of day, directed by Dario Fo and Franca Rame.
|1970-71||1970 Arturo Corso begins as assistant director to Fo. La Comune produces (at the Capannone di via Colletta): “Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi sapere che non è servito niente”, a play about the Italian and Palestinian resistance.
Following the terrorist attack on the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in Milan, Dario writes and produces one of his most famous pieces: “Morte accidentale di un anarchico” [“Accidental Death of an Anarchist”], about the strage di Stato [a massacre thought to be organized by organs of the state].
Franca Rame on stage in “Tutti uniti, tutti inseme! Ma, scusa, quello non è il padrone?!”, a play about the birth of the Italian Communist Party in 1921.
|1971||“Fedayin”, a piece by Fo, with Franca on stage with 10 authentic Palestinian freedom fighters to gather funds and medicine for the Palestinian resistance. Franca went to fetch the fedayeen herself in the training camps in Lebanon, with the help of the Popular Democratic Front.|
“Ordine per Dio.ooo.ooo.ooo” with Franca Rame and other actors, while Dario tours Italy with “Mistero buffo numero 2”.
Due to the economic crisis, many factories are closed. To defend their jobs, workers go on strike and occupy the factories. In support of this struggle, from 1971 to 1985 the La Comune collective stages hundreds of performances, donating the revenues to the workers.
La Comune is forced to leave the Capannone di via Colletta. The contract has expired and the owner refuses to renew it.
|1973-74||Dario, Franca and their colleagues are not deterred. They rent the Rossini Cinema on the outskirts of Milan, where they stage “Pum pum, chi è? La Polizia!” [“Bang bang, who’s there? Police!”] (still addressing the strage di Stato) with Dario Fo and other actors.
The theatre collective is subjected to various acts of repression by the police as well as to efforts at censorship.
|8 March||A group of fascists kidnaps, tortures and rapes Franca Rame. Through this beastly act, they seek to punish Franca and Dario for their political activism, in particular Franca’s work in the prisons since 1970. Outcries of indignation and support throughout Italy.|
|May||Following a two-month break, Franca returns to the stage with a performance entitled “Basta con i fascisti”, a slide presentation with monologues by Fo-Rame and Lanfranco Binni. The performance is dedicated to young people and addresses the cultural and political presence of fascism within the Italian state, retelling the birth, history and violence of fascism (opening: Milan’s Casa del popolo and tour).
Paris: “Mistero buffo” with Théâtre National Populaire at Salle Gemier-Trocadero.
“Ci ragiono e canto N.3” written by Fo for the Sicilian street singer Ciccio Busacca.
Having searched in vain for a permanent stage, La Comune occupies an abandoned, dilapidated building in central Milan, the Palazzina Liberty, formerly an indoor vegetable market. Within a year they have 80 000 season-ticket holders in Milan alone.
|September||A few days after the death of Allende, La Comune opens its new home stage – repaired and put in order with the help of neighbours and workers from various Milan factories – with “Guerra di popolo in Cile”. The revenues go to the Chilean resistance. During a guest performance in Sassari, Fo is arrested for having blocked access to the theatre for policemen seeking to stop the performance.|
|1974-75||Palazzina Liberty: “Non si paga, non si paga!” [“Can’t pay? Won’t pay!”]. In the course of the season, Fo and Rame organize performances, demonstrations and concerts in support of the campaign for a referendum on divorce and as manifestations of solidarity with workers occupying factories and in other ways taking part in the political struggle. Many immigrants have in the Palazzina Liberty found a place to meet to discuss their common concerns and to celebrate their faiths.|
|June 1975||“Fanfani rapito”: Fo writes this piece in four days in support of the campaign for a referendum for the legalization of abortion. The performances of “Non si paga, non si paga!” are interrupted and the new play is staged within eight days!|
|1975||The La Comune collective visits the People’s Republic of China for one month.
A group of Swedish intellectuals nominate Fo as candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature.
|1975-76||“La marijuana della mamma è la più bella”, a play about the drug fad making headway also in Italy.|
|1976-77||On the invitation of Massimo Fichera, Director of RAI 2, Dario and Franca return to television after 15 years. The series “Il teatro di Dario Fo” includes “Mistero buffo”, “Settimo: ruba un po’meno!”, “Ci ragiono e canto”, “Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe”, “La signora è da buttare” and “Parliamo di donne”, for a total television time of 21 hours. The political right and the Church complain … and attack the programme at every opportunity! Franca Rame receives the IDI Prize as best television actress for her performance in “Parliamo di donne”.|
|1977-78||During this theatre season, the third edition of “Mistero buffo” is born (Palazzina Liberty, followed by tour.)
In November opens at Palazzina Liberty a production of “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” [“Female parts”], a piece mixing the grotesque, comic and dramatic to illustrate the situation of women today. Alone on the stage is Franca Rame, who for the first time puts her name besides Fo’s on the author by-line. The performance is staged more than 3000 times.
It is in these years that Fo becomes Italy’s most translated author. He is published in more than 50 countries and in more than 30 languages.
|1979||Dario and Franca participate in the International Theatre Festival in Berlin with “Mistero buffo” and “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa”.
Fo writes “La tragedia di Aldo Moro”, on the kidnapping and assassination of the Italian Christian Democratic Party leader at the hands of the Red Brigades. The play, which has never been performed, is built on Sophocles’ Philoctetes.
Re-elaborates and directs for Milan’s La Scala Theatre “L’Histoire du Soldat” by Igor Stravinsky. Writes and directs “Storia della tigre [‘The Tale of the Tiger’] e altre storie”.
|l980||Franca, Dario and their son Jacopo found the Libera Università di Alcatraz, a cultural and agricultural retreat and study centre located in the hills between Gubbio and Perugia. By buying up, little by little, 3 700 000 square metres of forest (that otherwise would have been felled) and olive groves, the Fos prevent the destruction of a beautiful valley. They also restore eleven ancient and abandoned farm houses and medieval towers. Alcatraz becomes a gathering place for various artists and cultural groups – including Sergio Angese, Stefano Benni, Dacia Maraini, Milo Manara, Andrea Pazienza, Elena Cranco – who hold workshops in theatre, cartoon drawing, dance, writing, psychophysical techniques, psychology and craftsmanship. Alcatraz also arranges educational programmes and summer camps for young people, social outcasts and persons with handicap. The activities at the centre include equine therapy, comic therapy, nature walks and pool swimming including a swimming school. In addition, the centre offers natural gardening, an ecological restaurant and a facility to preserve organically grown fruit and produce. To date, the centre has had more than 3000 guests. It is directed by Jacopo Fo.
“Buona sera con Franca Rame” – by and with Fo – RAI 2 (20 shows).
|March||Sweden: Stockholms Stadsteater (The City Theatre of Stockholm) stages “Mistero buffo” and “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa”.|
|May||Fo is invited by East Berlin’s Berliner Ensemble to stage a production at Bertolt Brecht’s prestigious theatre in the spring of 1981. Dario Fo prepares an adaptation of Brecht’s “Three-penny Opera” that is rejected for its political content. The main resistance comes from Brecht’s daughter (the Berlin Wall has not yet fallen). The same adaptation is used when the play is staged a year later at Turin’s Teatro Stabile.
Dario and Franca are invited to participate at the Italian Theatre Festival in New York. However, the US Department of State denies them entry visas to the United States. On 29 May, a large group of US artists and intellectuals organize a protest against the ruling. Among the protesters are Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Martin Scorsese, Ellen Stewart, Sol Yurrick, Eve Merriam and others.
|December||France: Théâtre de L’Est Parisien stages “Mistero buffo” and “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa”.
Germany: Franca on stage with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” at the Volkshochschule in Frankfurt and the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Bochum and in Hamburg.
|1981-||The University of Copenhagen awards Fo with the prestigious Sonning Prize, which he dedicates to Franca.|
|1981||Franca in a production by RAI: “Mrs Warren’s Profession” by G. B. Shaw, directed by Giorgio Albertazzi.|
“Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” in a new version, Milan’s Odeon Theatre followed by tour. Franca writes “Lo stupro” and, with Dario, “Una madre” (about political prisoners), two monologues that are inserted in various performances.
Fo writes “Clacson, trombette e pernacchi” [“Trumpets and raspberries”], a comedy about terrorism.
|1982||Turin’s Teatro Stabile produces and Fo directs his new play “L’Opera dello sghignazzo”, a free adaptation of John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera”, which also served as point of departure for Brecht’s “Three-penny Opera”. Dario Fo writes and produces “Il fabulazzo osceno”, based on “Mistero buffo” and “Storia della tigre”. With him on stage is Franca Rame who recites the two monologues “Lo stupro” and “La madre”.
London: Franca’s performance of “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” at the Riverside Studios is received with loud acclaim by critics and public alike. The same piece, in English translation [“Female Parts”], is performed by Yvonne Bryceland at the National Theatre.
Dario and Franca together write “Coppia aperta” [“The Open Couple”], which is immediately staged at Stockholm’s famous Pistol Theatre, translated and directed by Anna and Carlo Barsotti. The play enjoys great success with critics and public.
|1983 May||London: Fo at the Riverside Studios with “Mistero buffo”.
Canada: Franca is invited to participate in the Festival Québéçois du Jeune Théâtre with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa”.
|1983-84||Following the play’s clamorous success in Sweden, Dario and Franca stage “Coppia aperta” with Nicola de Buono in the role of the husband (Teatro Ciak in Milan). The Ministerial Commission for Censorship bans the play to minors under 18 (!). The ruling is later recalled after protests from the press and the public.|
|January||Cuba: Festival de teatro de la Habana with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa”.|
|May||Argentina: Teatro Municipal General San Martin with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” and “Mistero buffo”. During a performance, a youth throws a military tear-gas grenade into the theatre. It explodes, creating panic among the audience of well over 1000 persons. Every evening throughout the stay in Argentina, young and not so young – fascists in black leather jackets throw stones at the windows of the theatre – while tens of policemen stand by, watching complacently. Windows up to the third floor are broken. Meanwhile, groups of Catholics (instigated by fiery press articles by the Bishop of Buenos Aires, written before the arrival of the company), carrying oversized images of Jesus on their chests, pray in the lobby of the theatre. Others interrupt the performances with shouts every time the word “pope” was mentioned. These people are carried out of the theatre by the police. Reactions of support from authorities and the public, including the mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
Colombia: Teatro Colon with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” and “Mistero buffo”.
|August||Franca and Dario at Edinburgh’s Fringe Theatre Festival with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” and “Mistero buffo”.
Tour in Finland, Tampere: Festival of the Theatre of Dario Fo. Plays and performances by Fo-Rame are staged all over the city. Dario presents “Mistero buffo” and Franca “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa”.
They are invited by Joseph Papp to stage a production at New York’s Public Theatre, but are denied entry into the USA for a second time.
Fo writes “Patapunfete”, a text for clowns, performed and directed by Ronald and Alfred Colombaioni.
During the summer, Fo writes “Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta” [“Elizabeth: Almost by Chance a Woman”], “Dio li fa poi li accoppa” and “Lisistrata romana”, the latter a monologue that has never been staged.
London: Riverside Studios with “La storia della maschera“.
Fo-Rame at Edinburgh’s Fringe Theatre Festival.
|1984-85||The first production of “Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta” opens in the autumn. The large number of people who come to see the play during the season earn Dario and Franca AGIS’s “Golden Ticket” award.|
|May-June||Germany: The International Theatre Festival in Munich with “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” and “Mistero buffo”.|
|May||Genua’s Teatro della Tosse stages “La vera storia di Piero d’Angera che alla crociata non c’era”, directed by Tonino Conte, stage design and costumes by Lele Luzzati.|
|November||American producer Alexander Cohen stages a Broadway production of “Accidental Death of an Anarchist”, with adaptations by Richard Nelsan, at New York’s Belasco Theatre. The US Department of State finally – after personal intervention by President Reagan! – grants Fo and Rame a limited, six-day entry visa.|
|1985-86||For the Biennial exhibition in Venice, Fo writes and stages (with Rome University’s Teatro Ateneo) “Hellequin, Harlekin, Arlecchino” at Venice’s Palazzo del Cinema. He also writes “Diario di Eva” for Franca; but has yet to stage it.|
|September||Franca is invited to Copenhagen by the Danish actors’ union to present a few of her monologues at a benefit performance. Franca visits Tübingen, Heidelberg, Stuttgart and Frankfurt with the Theater Am Turm to perform “Coppia aperta” with Giorgio Biavati.|
|May-June||USA: Dario and Franca are finally granted a normal entry visa for the United States. On the invitation of Harvard University, they perform “Mistero buffo” and “Tutta casa, letto e chiesa” at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater, the New Haven University Repertory Theatre, Washington’s Kennedy Center, Baltimore’s Theater of Nations and New York’s Joyce Theater. They hold a five-day theatre seminar at New York University as well as various workshops. Franca gives a lesson/performance at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.|
|August||Fo receives the Premio Eduardo from Taormina Arte.
Franca at the Free Festival in Edinburgh with “Coppia aperta”. Participating in the festival are various companies presenting Fo-Rame texts in English translation: Yorick Theatre Co., Catwalk Theatre Productions, Fo-Rame Theatre Project, Warehouse Theatre, The Drama Department and Borderline Theatre.
|1986-87||Franca opens at Milan’s Teatro Nuovo with “Parti femminili”, two one-act plays by Dario Fo and Franca Rame: “Una giornata qualunque” [“An Ordinary Day”] and an updated version of “Coppia aperta”. The same season sees the opening of “Il ratto della Francesca” with Franca Rame and others.|
|December||Pagani (Naples): Dario Fo receives the “Fifth national award against violence and the Camorra” from the Associazione Torre.|
|February||Dario Fo directs Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam. The same production – with another cast is later staged at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari.|
|April||Dario and Franca are in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to direct Archangels Don’t Play Flipper” at the American Repertory Theatre.|
|June||In New York to receive the Obie Prize.|
|July||Franca Rame at the San Francisco Theater Festival with “Coppia aperta”. She holds a theatre workshop with well over a hundred participants, numbering actors, mimes, acrobats and magicians who have come from all parts of the United States to share experiences.|
|1987-88||At the Festival dell’Unità, before an audience of over 10 000, Dario Fo presents his piece “La rava e la fava” (title later changed to “La parte del leone”), a tragicomic monologue on the political situation in Italy.
Franca Rame continues with “Parti femminili” and participates in a production for RAI 2, “Una lepre con la faccia da bambina”, a film by Gianni Sera on the ecological disaster in Seveso. In the meantime, Fo writes scripts for the eight episodes of “Trasmissione forzata” planned for RAI 3, where he also assumes the roles of director, costume designer, stage designer and actor (with Franca and others). Eleven more years have again passed since their last collaboration with RAI television.
They are awarded the Agro Dolce Prize in Campione d’Italia.
|June||Franca tours Turin for RAI 2’s production of “Parti femminili”.|
|1988-89||Franca Rame continues her Italian tour of “Parti femminili”. Fo has a film role in “Musica per vecchi animali”, directed by Stefano Benni.|
|March||De Nederlandse Opera reopens with “The Barber of Seville”, again directed by Fo.|
|l989||“Lettera dalla Cina” by Dario Fo staged at Milan’s Arco della Pace and in other Italian cities as part of demonstrations against the events at Tienanmen Square.|
|May||Brazil: As part of the exhibition “Italia Viva”, the Teatro Petruzzelli stages Fo’s production of “The Barber of Seville” in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. In the same cities, Dario and Franca perform “Mistero buffo” and “Parti femminili” to a public already acquainted with their theatre through several productions by various Brazilian theatre companies.|
|1989-90||Fo writes two plays: “Il braccato”, a never-played piece with a Mafia theme, and “Il papa e la strega” [“The Pope and the Witch”], on the legalization of drugs. The latter is staged with Franca Rame, who thanks to the large audience she reaches during the season again receives the “Golden ticket” award from AGIS.|
|April-June||Paris: on the invitation of Antoine Vitez, Artistic Director of the Comédie Française, Fo stages Molière’s “Le médecin malgré lui” and “Le médecin volant”. Sadly, Vitez – who had fought to have Fo inaugurate his planned Molière cycle – is unable to witness the triumphs that the productions reap with critics and public alike. He passes away towards the end of April. Fo is the first Italian director to stage a production at the Comédie Française. Among the spectators is President Mitterrand, who praises the productions in a personal letter to Dario Fo.|
|May||Fo is invited by the Berliner Ensemble to stage a production in Bertolt Brecht’s old theatre in the spring of 1991. The project is never finalized.|
|July||Franca Rame films “Coppia aperta” for Swiss national television.|
|1990-91||Fo writes and produces at Milan’s Teatro Nuovo “Zitti! Stiamo precipitando!”, a comic-grotesque farce about AIDS. The piece with Dario Fo, Franca Rame and others on stage – is played at many of the country’s major theatres. In several cities, it is alternated with “Mistero buffo”, always in high demand.
The open-ended structure of “Mistero buffo” allows it to evolve over the years, permitting Fo to address the various issues which over time attracts his interest and that of the public.
|April||As part of the Eleventh International Theatre Festival, Dario and Franca stage “Mistero buffo” in Palma and Seville.|
|May||Fo is invited to participate with a new production at Seville’s 1992 World Exhibition on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the discovery of America.|
|May||Fo’s production of “The Barber of Seville” at De Nederlandse Opera is filmed by Dutch national television.|
|1991-92||Dario Fo on stage with his new monologue “Johan Padan a la descoverta de le Americhe”. The text is the fruit of his research on the lives of a group of Europeans shipwrecked in the early 16th Century. Using testimonials recovered from that time, Fo tells the story – in a reinvented, antique language – of a group of Mississippi Indians resisting the European incursion. This five centuries old struggle marks the beginning of the undefeated Seminole nation’s fight for its survival, an epic story that from the beginning has been censored from the pages of history.|
|October||Dario and Franca at the Italian Theatre festival in Moscow, organized by the Russian Writers Association and ETI. They stage “Mistero buffo” at the Taganka Theatre.|
|April||Spain: the Centro Dramatico in Valencia puts on a production of Fo’s 1962 play “Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe”, slightly revised on occasion of the “celebration” of the quincentenial anniversary of the “discovery” of America.
Fo participates with “Johan Padan” in the World Exhibition in Seville in 1992.
“Parliamo di donne”, consisting of two one-act pieces (“L’Eroina” and “Grassa è bello”), is staged in September at Milan’s Teatro Nuovo. The pieces are written with Franca Rame who also plays the leading roles. “L’Eroina” tells the tragic story of a mother of three drug-addicted children, of which one dies of an overdose and another of AIDS. To save the life of the third child, the mother prostitutes herself to afford to keep him with drugs: “A drug addiction can be cured but AIDS can only kill”. In “Grassa è bello”, Franca – in a foam rubber body suit to make her look grossly overweight – airs thoughts on femininity, what it means to be sexy, slimming, dieting, love and life in general. As often happens when Franca is on stage, several performances are cancelled because the theatre owners get cold feet following a bigoted press campaign.
|June||Fo directs a new production of “The Barber of Seville”, this time for the Paris Opera playing at the Opera Garnier.|
De Nederlandse Opera opens with “The Barber of Seville” for yet another season.
Also continuing for another season are Fo’s productions of Molière’s “Le médecin malgré lui” and “Le médecin volant” at the Comédie Française.
|1992-93||“Settimo: ruba un po’ meno! n. 2” by Dario Fo and Franca Rame. In this one-act play, staged as the flood-gates of the wide-reaching graft scandal known in Italy as “tangentopoli” [“bribe city”] opened, Franca Rame talks in simple terms about the thievery that has become custom in Italy’s political establishment. No embellishments are necessary for dramatic effects.|
|July 1993||At the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Franca Rame and others read “Dario Fo incontra Ruzzante”.|
|1993-94||Dario Fo writes and plays in “Mamma! I sanculotti!”, a piece that, in the tradition of comic theatre, through dance, mime and song, tells the story of a public prosecutor who investigates graft and corruption in and out of Parliament.|
|1994||“Un palcoscenico per le donne”: At Milan’s Porta Romana Theatre, Franca Rame organizes a theatrical review, by and for women, with young playwright/actresses. In August, the review is played in Cesenatico with great success.|
|April||Franca: a new season with “Settimo: ruba un po’ meno n. 2”.|
|May||In cooperation with the Municipality of Cervia, Franca organizes a performance for a group of Italian and foreign actors and actresses. Participants come from Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey.|
|August||At the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Fo directs Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”.|
|1994-95||In October, Franca opens in Milan with “Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!”, by Franca Rame and Jacopo and Dario Fo, based on Jacopo Fo’s book Lo zen e l’arte di scopare (more than 300 000 copies sold). In the grotesque and ironic text, Franca Rame – departing from her own first sexual experiences – illustrates how we are kept in the dark as we grow up, with the idea that sexuality – above all women’s sexuality – is something indecent. At first, the Ministerial Commission for Censorship bans the performance for minors under 18 years. After two months of press campaigns and litigation, the ban is dropped, and the performance is described as “brimming with profound maternal love and therefore recommended to minors”.|
|December||Fo’s production of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” is staged at De Nederlandse Opera to resounding international acclaim. The production is filmed by Dutch national television.
Franca visits Toronto with an enthusiastically received performance of “Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!”.
|January||Dario Fo opens in Florence with “Dario Fo recita Ruzzante”, a satirical monologue and an homage to Angelo Beolco. The text is an elaboration of the one already read at the Festival in Spoleto, enriched with new material. The performance meets with unanimous praise from Italy’s theatre critics and draws a large audience.
Walter Valeri, who manages the Fo-Rame company’s foreign bookings, prepares an international tour in France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. Scheduled for the tour are performances of “Johan Padan a la scoperta de le Americhe” and “Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!”, as well as seminars at leading universities with central figures in American theatre.
On 17 July, Dario is struck by cerebral ischaemia and loses 80 per cent of his sight. All plans are put on hold. In order to honour commitments to technical and administrative personnel, Franca Rame continues in the autumn with her Italian tour of “Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!”, while Dario rests and recuperates. His condition is good and improves day by day.
|1996-97||Dario begins to reassume his tasks: he holds classes in theatre schools and at universities, and gives a special performance of “Arlecchino” at Venice’s Teatro Goldoni.|
|July||He writes “Bibbia dei villani” for the festival of Benevento. The performance is staged in September.|
|May||Dario and Franca visit Copenhagen, where they hold an open seminar at Folkteatret. Franca arranges a theatre evening with Danish actresses and gives performances of “Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!”. The couple also inaugurates an exhibition of their drawings, costumes and puppets at the National Museum.
In the autumn, Dario and Franca continue with their Italian tour of “Mistero buffo” and “Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!”, merging the two pieces into a single performance played at major theatres as well at sports arenas before large audiences (up to 5000 people). In order not to tire Dario too much, the activities of the company are otherwise reduced.
During this tour, Dario and Franca write “Il diavolo con le zinne”, a comic-grotesque spectacle that for its richness and variety in language, its theatrical invention and its elements of song and dance, is best described as an opera. It is a great success.
Dario is now cured of his illness, and his eyesight has improved so much that Franca gives him a computerized typewriter (he refuses to use a computer), They are very happy!
|1997-98||For the Festival of Taormina, CTFR, GIGA and Taormina Arte produce “Il diavolo con le zinne”, directed by Dario Fo, who also designs costumes and décor. On stage are Franca Rame and Giorgio Albertazzi. The play opens on 7 August 1997 at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Messina.
The production continues the following season and is taken on tour throughout Italy, where it meets with great success.
9 October 1997 Dario Fo receives the Nobel Prize in literature.
PLAYS DIRECTED BY DARIO FO AND FRANCA RAME
|1962||GLI AMICI DELLA BATTONIERA – Teatro Ridotto, Venice.|
|1963||CHI RUBA UN PIEDE È FORTUNATO IN AMORE – Lilla Teatern, Helsinki.|
|1967||LA PASSEGGIATA DELLA DOMENICA – by M. Archard, translation and arrangement by Dario Fo; Teatro Durini, Milan.|
|1968||ENZO JANNACCI: 22 CANZONI – Teatro Odeon, Milan.|
|1978||LA STORIA DI UN SOLDATO (L’HISTOIRE DU SOLDAT) – by I. Stravinsky; Teatro alla Scala, Milan.|
|1981||L’OPERA DELLO SGHIGNAZZO – elaboration of “The Beggars Opera” by J. Gay; Teatro Stabile, Turin.|
|1986||TUTTA CASA, LETTO E CHIESA- Belgium and France.|
|1987||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam.|
|1987||ARCHANGELS DON’T PLAY FLIPPER – American Repertory Theater, Cambridge (Mass.).|
|1988||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; Teatro Petruzzelli, Bari.|
|1989||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; tour with Teatro Petruzzelli in Brazil (Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro).|
|1990||LE MÉDECIN MALGRÉ LUI/LE MÉDECIN VOLANT – by Molière; Comédie Française, Paris.|
|1990||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam.|
|1991||IL MEDICO PER FORZA/IL MEDICO VOLANTE – by Molière; Comédie Française, Paris.|
|1992||ISABELLA, TRE CARAVELLE E UN CACCIABALLE – Centro Dramatico Nacional, Valencia.|
|1992||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam (filmed for Dutch TV).|
|1992||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; Opera Garnier, Paris.|
|1994||L’ITALIANA IN ALGERI – by G. Rossini; Pesaro Opera Festival, Pesaro.|
|1994||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam.|
|1996||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; Israel (produced by Arturo Corso).|
|1997||THE BARBER OF SEVILLE – by G. Rossini; Sweden (staged by Carlo Barsotti).|
WORK IN FILM AND TELEVISION
|1952||PAPAVERI E PAPERE, a film by Marcello Marchesi with Franca Rame and Walter Chiari.|
|1956||MONETINE DA 5 LIRE, a television comedy by Dario Fo for RAI.|
|1956||LO SVITATO, a film by Carlo Lizzani with Franca Rame, script by Dario Fo.|
|1961||CHI L’HA VISTO?, a television series for RAI 2 (6 episodes).|
|1962||CANZONISSIMA, a television series for RAI 1 (13 episodes). Fo writes the texts, directs and – with Franca Rame – hosts the show, which is one of the most popular on Italian television. Due to the political content of some of the sketches, the show is censured. Dario Fo and Franca Rame leave the show in protest. As a consequence, they are sued by RAI’s management which bans them from television for 15 years.|
|1976||FANFANI RAPITO, film.|
|1977||IL TEATRO DI DARIO FO, seven televised comedies by and with Dario Fo and Franca Rame, for RAI 2.|
|1978||BUONASERA CON FRANCA RAME, a television series for RAI 2 (20 episodes).|
|1978||PARLIAMO DI DONNE, 2 episodes with Franca Rame.|
|1981||MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION by G. B. Shaw, directed for television by G. Albertazzi, with Franca Rame.|
|1988||TRASMISSIONE FORZATA with Dario Fo and Franca Rame, for RAI 3.|
|1989||UNA LEPRE CON LA FACCIA DA BAMBINA, film for television by G. Serra, with Franca Rame.|
|1989||UNA GIORNATA QUALUNQUE and COPPIA APERTA for RAI 2, with Franca Rame.|
|1989||PROMESSI SPOSI, Dario Fo.|
|1989||MUSICA PER VECCHI ANIMALI, film for television by S. Benni, with Dario Fo.|
|1990||COPPIA APERTA, Swiss national television, with Franca Rame.|
|1991||SETTIMO: RUBA UN PO’ MENO, for RAI 2.|
|1991||MISTERO BUFFO, for RAI 2, with Dario Fo and Franca Rame.|
|1993||RUZZANTE, for RAI 2.|
COUNTRIES IN WHICH THE THEATRE OF DARIO FO AND FRANCA RAME HAS BEEN PLAYED
CITIES HOSTING EXHIBITS OF THE THEATRE OF DARIO FO AND FRANCA RAME
ITALY: Bergamo, Cesena, Forli, Milan, Palermo, Pesaro, Riccione, Venice
SPAIN: Barcelona, Madrid
The NETHERLANDS: Amsterdam
The exhibits contain paintings, masks, hand- and string puppets, tapestries, sketches for stage design, stage machinery, direction notes and costumes.
Translated by Paul Claesson
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/ Nobel Lectures/The Nobel Prizes. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate.
Dario Fo died on 13 October 2016.
Their work and discoveries range from the Earth’s climate and our sense of touch to efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
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