Dario Fo: I am a Born Storyteller

Meet legendary playwright Dario Fo, who here tells the intriguing story of how he became a storyteller and how he revolutionized theatre by “destroying the fourth wall” – encouraging his audience not to be voyeurs but to participate.

“I’m a born storyteller, it’s true.” There was a glass-blowing factory in the town in which Fo grew up, where thousands of people from all over the world were employed. As a result a strange merge of languages arose: “Grammelot was created, a language of transit made up of onomatopoeic sounds, gestures, movements, tones.” It soon became apparent that there were storytellers in all the different groups of nationalities: “Everyone told stories and I also learned to tell stories. I repeated them, then I made up stories of my own, then I took stories I’d heard from the foreigners.” Soon Fo became famous for his stories, and was often invited to dinners in order to tell them.

“She was truly my teacher.” When Fo met Italian actress Franca Rame, his wife of over six decades, she taught him the importance of communicating with the audience – “destroying the fourth wall” – in a way that would make them feel as if they were actually on stage. When Fo and Rame discovered that they were in fact “soothing the bourgeoisie” with their plays, they felt they had to change everything. This was done by e.g. setting up their plays in places where workers gathered, such as community centres. The audience soon started to participate actively: “… the audience wanted more than us performing stories which we thought were useful to them. No, they wanted us to talk about their personal problems.” In contrast to the bourgeois audience, which Fo considered to be “voyeurs”, their new audience was very much involved.

Fo and Rame performed in a time, where a cultural revolution had erupted in Italy. They developed a way of avoiding censorship by becoming an association with the audience: “We shifted all the models, the rules of conventional theatre.” Their new approach to theatre was much to the dismay of the politicians and during those years they were imprisoned, they underwent 40 trials, suffered great violence – including the rape of Rame – and had bombs placed under the theatre: “But we won with serious injuries and serious troubles…”

Dario Fo (b. 1926) is an Italian playwright, actor, comedian, director, stage and costume designer, songwriter, painter, writer and political campaigner. Much of Fo’s dramatic work depends on improvisation and draws on e.g. the ancient Italian style of commedia dell’arte. Fo’s plays, which have been performed all over the world, are known for their social criticism, and his solo piece ‘Mistero Buffo’ (1969) (Comical Mystery) is recognised as one of the most controversial and popular spectacles in post-war European theatre, and has furthermore been denounced by the Vatican. In 1997 Fo received the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy praising him with the words: “He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed.”

Dario Fo was interviewed by Christian Lund at Hotel Bella Sky in Copenhagen on 10 November 2015.

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden


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