Dario Fo Biography
Dario Fo was born on March 24, 1926 in San Giano, near Lake Maggiore, in northern Italy. Today Fo is considered one of the greatest comic actors of the 20th century. Ironically, Lake Maggiore is populated with a large number of strolling storyteller, which influenced Fo. His intrigue in traveling stortytellers led to Fo's claim to fame as he produced and acted in an array of satirical works using the style of performance of strolling storytellers.In 1940, Fo studied art at the Brera Art College in Milan. During this time, he also began improvising stories that were influenced by traveling storytellers such as those from Lake Maggiore. Fo admired the simplicity of these storytellers around Lake Maggiore. The stories they told were merely simple observations of everyday life; however, each tale contained a sharp bite of satire. The satire was usually directed toward the official world including bureaucracies and the church, but the satirical intentions were not always obvious to the audience.

In 1944, Fo wrote his first play, A Master Drives a Servant Mad, Then the Servant Drives the Master Mad; however, this play was never performed. Fo returned to Milan in 1945 to continue studying art at the Brera College and architecture at the Milan Polytechnic. Fo was most fascinated with the architecture of the Romanesque churches. He was impressed that the powerful architecture was the product of simple builders and sculptors and not the result of powerful intellectuals. In fact, beautiful works, such as these Romanesque churches, were the products of workers that were viewed by the official world as social outcasts. Fo left Milan before completing the final examinations necessary to earn a degree. After studying in Milan and suffering a nervous breakdown in 1950, Fo was advised to pursue a career which he enjoys. Taking this advise, Fo joins the outdoor variety show of actor, Franco Parenti. Fo also becomes interested and participates in a radio program, which consisted of a series of monologues.

In 1954, Dario Fo marries Franca Rame, an actress whose performances include a number of variety shows and films. The two combined their talents and went on to produce and act in many satirical plays. Approximately 250 productions of Fo's plays are being performed throughout the world today.

Fo and Rame are very politically active. Both are members of the Soccorso Rosso which is an organization that supports the rights of prison inmates who are imprisoned for political offenses. In fact, Fo was denied a visa in the United States during the Reagan/Bush administration due to his connection with this organization. Regardless of failing to receive a visa, Fo and Rame continue to be politically active, especially against bureaucracies.

Dario Fo and Franca Rame also caused a commotion in Italy. The two appeared in Canzonissima, a Saturday night variety show. In Italian Cultural Studies, Forgacs and Lumley state:

Fo and Rame had been invited to host the show by the RAI, but their satires on Bureaucracy, the police, factory work and the economic miracle produced such hostile reactions in the press and even in Parliament that their scripts were censored. (p. 238).
After one particular incident involving censorship of their work, Fo and Rame walked out during a performance. They were outraged at the censorship, especially since the sketch had been approved prior to the airing of the program. This caused a great scandal which was covered by the press immediately. This scandal resulted in the RAI pre-recording programs in order to avoid such problems in the future. The pre-recording would eliminate the risks involved in live programs.

Fastforward to 1997, Dario Fo receives the Nobel Prize for literature. He is the first actor-playwright since Pirandello to win the Nobel Prize. Immediately after receiving the Prize, Fo offers half to Franca Rame, which he feels is as much her award as it is his. The money received from the Nobel Prize by Fo will be used to finance the Soccorso Rosso, which assists Italian prisoners jailed for political offenses.

Without a question, Fo is one of the greatest comic actors of this century even though his works have gone unnoticed in the United States until just recently. It has only been within the last ten years that Fo's plays have received notoriety in the United States. Fo has enjoyed the description of himself as a sort of medieval jester or strolling player that satirically mocks institutions of authority such as bureaucracies and churches. Fo explains his method of satire as a way of arousing deep emotions in the audience. Satire makes people conscious because it becomes embedded in the mind and therefore, a person's intelligence. Fo's productions, through colorful improvisations and laughter, entertain the audiences while, at the same time, it forces them to face the realities of the culture and circumstances surrounding them. Among his most well known works are Mistero Buffo and Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

Mistero Buffo is a series of one-person performances. The performances are a series of medieval texts depicting specific Catholic traditions. Fo began this series in 1963, performing each story in the series so that it would smoothly connect one part to the next. During this time, he also began improvising additional stories, which became part of the series. This play is referred to as Fo's masterpiece.

The actual translation of Mistero Buffo means grotesque spectacle which, in the name alone, is a satire of the church which used the term 'mistero' to describe sacred spectacles. Mistero Buffo is a satire of the capitalist system and has some indications of Marxist thought. Fo's stories are centered on the tensions between oppression and freedom. As one critic noted in File On Dario Fo,

He then orchestrates his comic climaxes so that they coincide with the victim's liberation from servitude, so that laughter and the defeat of tyranny are simultaneously linked in the audience's mind. (p. 37).
This expresses Fo's style of subtly placing his political views within the comedy sketches. Another critic expands on this notion of subtlety. The critic states that Fo is "at ease with his audience and confident of the intrinsic interest of his material" (Mitchell, p. 36).
Fo's productions are farces on official institutions, such as the Catholic Church in this instance. One potential problem in translating this production to nations outside Italy is that the Church does not cast a shadow over other nations as it does Italy. One critic described this as "all the greater pity" since other nations may not appreciate the true satire Fo is trying to convey in this production (Mitchell, p. 36).

Fo's production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, places a maniac as the central character inquiring about the death of an anarchist suspect who has suspiciously fallen from a fourth-story window. Fo uses the maniac as a decoy character. The irony is that the maniac who seems to be the one character who is most normal in this abnormal situation then turns out to be the madman in the end. The production mocks the judges and police of the State by displaying the lies made up by the police officers to explain the death of the anarchist and the conflicting stories relayed by each. The production has received rave reviews; however, performances abroad have struggled.

In the United States, the politics of the production is either ignored or downplayed. One critic explains the belief behind this ignorance is that "the more the play is de-politicized, the better it will be its reception from the public and the critics" (p. 48). The producers of Fo's productions in the United States aim to reproduce the slapstick comedy. This becomes a terrible mistake because the comedy relies on the presence of the political situation in the performance; absent the politics, the production is absent the comedy.

Productions of Fo and Rame follow current issues important at a specific time. Along with supporting political prisoner, Fo and Rame also support the women's feminist movement. Fo and Rame have encouraged feminists through their productions of women's rights issues concerning divorce and abortion. Female Parts (All House, Bed and Church) consists of several monologues which address female oppression. In one series, the woman actually kills all the men that have oppressed her. The performance magnifies the realities surrounding the audience which forces them to come to some very uncomfortable conclusions.

Fo admits to relying on Rame, his wife and collaborator, for the development of these feminine characters. The performances of Female Parts, explores what is the goal of women in the feminist movement. In doing this, the performances do not explore deep-rooted relationships between women. Instead, the focus is on the "issue of power in heterosexual relationships", but "goes beyond idiosyncratic anti-male positions" (p. 66).

Performances created by the brilliant mind of Dario Fo are absolute treasures to the entire world. With productions running worldwide, people around the globe will have access to one of the great literary minds of the 20th century. Fo links the past with the present. Fo uses the storyteller style of ancient times to examine current political issues. In describing his approach to theatre, Fo claims "the more one approaches the new by way of experimentation, the more there is a need to seek out roots in the past" (p. 96). With this, Fo recreates this unique style of storytelling which engages audiences worldwide.