Biography of Dario Fo

Dario Fo was born on March 24, 1926, in San Giano, Lombardy, Italy, a small fishing village near the border of Switzerland. He was the oldest of three children born to his peasant mother and railway worker father. Fo grew up listening to local storytellers in San Giano and then in Porto Valtraglia, where his family moved when he was 10. He credits both them and his parents with inspiring his own inventiveness and nurturing his imagination. 

Fo came of age during World War II. In 1944, Mussolini took control of Fo's home village; Fo joined the army but deserted soon afterwards. His family was staunchly anti-fascist, helping Jews and Allied prisoners of war escape into neutral Switzerland.  

Before and after the war, Fo attended school in Milan. He studied both art and architecture; while he later withdrew from the architecture program, he acquired the skills with which to design his own sets. Fo enjoyed the intellectual life of the city and his growing acquaintance with actors, artists, and writers. Particularly influential were Franco Parenti, an actor with whom he established his first theater company, and Franca Rame, an actress and playwright whom he married in 1954. 

Fo's first play was A Poke in the Eye (1953), staged with the company he established with Parenti. The drama established Fo as a political playwright, presenting Marxist ideas in a satirical way. His next play, Madhouse for the Sane (1954), so enraged government officials that they sent state inspectors to each performance to ensure that he did not violate any libel laws. 

After a brief stint writing films in Rome, Fo returned to Milan and to the theater, forming the Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame with his wife. His plays were still satirical, although less explicitly political, and the two performed primarily for bourgeois audiences. In 1962 the couple was invited to perform on the television programme Canzonissima, a variety show. The show was immensely popular, but the couple's hard-hitting satire of institutions and individuals led to death threats. When the programme's director refused to allow Fo to perform a sketch on accidents at work during a workers' strike, he and Rame walked out. 

In 1968, the couple became disillusioned by what they saw as their role as entertainers for the bourgeoisie. They decided to disband their former company in order to establish a theater cooperative, the Nuovo Scena, backed by the Italian Communist party. Wanting to reach the working class, they performed at nontraditional venues such as workers' clubs, factories, and even football stadiums. Their plays all had a political motive, growing increasingly radical. In 1969 Fo staged arguably his most popular and controversial play, Mistero buffo, in which he indicts landowners, the government, and the Catholic Church as oppressors of the people. Eventually the company provoked even the Communist party, which withdrew support due to a play highlighting the party's antirevolutionary policies and its subsequent seduction by capitalism. 

In 1970 the couple formed a new cooperative, La Comune, which produced Accidental Death of an Anarchist. The play was a huge success, with the troupe performing in, among other places, a sports stadium for over 600 people. Within several years, however, the couple became the target of police brutality and corruption themselves, likely due to their part in exposing the Pinelli scandal. Fo was arrested in Sardinia for supposedly failing to allow police to enter the theater in which he was rehearsing, and his wife was kidnapped and raped by terrorists apparently acting in concert with Italy's main police force.  

Fo was not allowed to perform in the United States until 1986, when he and Rame were finally granted visas. They had been denied earlier entry due to their involvement in Red Aid, a group supporting imprisoned left-wing militants and their families. 

In 1997, Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The author of over 40 plays, he is considered to be the most widely performed playwright alive today.  



Study Guides on Works by Dario Fo