Dario Fo, actor, Nobel prizewinner, communist and political activist died in Milan on October 13th. He was 90 years of age. Fo was the spouse and coworker of Franca Rame, who passed away in 2013, and father of Jacopo Fo, writer, activist and actor. Dario Fo married Franca Rame in 1954, and together they created the Dario Fo–Franca Rame Theatre Company, which brought life to dramatic pieces known all over the world. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, their most famous work, dealt with the death of anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli who fell – or rather was thrown – from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station in 1969.
The funeral was preceded by controversy around a number of hypocritical tributes. Many of those who praised Fo tried to separate the actor and the artist from the political activist. Jacopo exploded in protest on Facebook, commenting that ‘Of course, right now everybody is celebrating Dario. After spending a lifetime trying to censure and hit him in every possible way. Screw them.’
Dario Fo’s funeral was held in Milan, in the Duomo Square, on the morning of Saturday 15th October 2016. Many people, not discouraged by the heavy rain, attended the non-religious ceremony, and his closest friend spoke, remembering his life force, his laughter, his work, his political and artistic commitment and his love for his wife. The last to speak was a visibly moved Jacopo:
“To all of you here, I’d like to tell you a story from many years ago, when I was still a child.
My father was shaving, he was about to go out and act in a theatre. While he was in the bathroom, I sat on the edge of the bath and he started to tell a story. The story was about a war in medieval Bologna, a war that claimed the life of thousands and thousands of young people. Faced with this massacre, the people rose up and rioted against the nobility of the city, who took shelter in the Citadel, an impenetrable fortress. They had plenty of food and water to last many months and the people had no weapons to attack the Citadel. And my father asked me, ‘How can the people, without weapons, take the Citadel which is so strongly defended?’ I had no suggestions: it seemed impossible to me. So he told me what actually happened. Someone had the idea of doing something very basic: covering Bologna’s Citadel in shit. And people arrived with wheelbarrows and carts full of shit and they started to throw it against the Citadel. People didn’t defecate for days in order to arrive at the Citadel and contribute to the attack. After some time, the powerful of the city were completely covered in shit as everything was disgusting inside the Citadel and they lost any interest in resisting. So they gave up.
I believe that if you think about all that my father and my mother talked about over the years, there is always one steady element. They told stories about people who had no chance and who fought against a great, invincible power. And in those stories this happened: in those stories, the powerless took power, took the dignity of life and found brilliant solutions. In each one of my father’s stories there are brilliant solutions that can overthrow the situation. If we stop thinking in the usual way, if we stop thinking that a impenetrable fortress is really invincible, then we can find an absurd and ridiculous idea: ‘A laughter that will bury you.’
There is yet another story, one of the first of Mistero Buffo. The story of a poor farmer who lived with a beautiful wife. An aristocrat came to their house, beat the farmer, raped his wife and killed their children. The farmer, thought to be dead, somehow recovered and decided to put an end to his life, he was in so much pain. He then took a rope, the only thing the aristocrat had left him, tied a noose and stepped onto a stool. As he was about to hang himself, a beautiful boy entered the house, and stepped up and kissed the farmer. The boy was Jesus. That kiss stirred something inside the farmer. He felt a sudden desire to tell to the others what he suffered. And he became a jester. This is the story of the jester’s birth.
And it is the story of my mother’s and my father’s work, work that starts from the same point. The first step to changing things is to tell. To tell the story of our lives to the people. The most majestic thing is that they told what happened to them. They talked to factory workers and to students and then they created their stories based on these comrades’ stories. On stage, they acted from life and it was not just a show of their abilities or talent. The people loved Dario and Franca precisely for this. And I believe that you all, under this Universal Flood, you are all here because you saw this. You didn’t just see a talented actor. You saw someone who had really been there.
Once my father, not a man for giving lectures, gave me some advice: do what you want and you’ll live longer. But not in a egoistic or reckless way. Do what you like, do what you wish and follow your wishes until the end. That’s what my mother and father did: they went forward, despite all that happened, despite all that they all did to them. They didn’t bend their heads. And the people who tried to hit them, those people lost. My father and my mother had a wonderful life, and they received so much love. I stood in the funeral parlour to greet and thank all those who came to salute my father. All those people said to me, ‘your father did this for me’. Workers from the occupied factories came, and also people who had talked to my father and to whom my father had listened. My father seemed absent-minded, but he was capable of listening for hours to someone who had a bad day.
And I’d like to say one last thing, before you all dissolve under this Flood. We’d known since July that my father was in the last stages of his illness. It was a difficult situation, and my father told me that he was fighting like a lion. In August, he managed to do a play of two hours in front of 3,000 people, and he finished with a song. I called his doctor, and I told him, ‘Do you know what? He managed to do his play. And he was singing, really singing, at the end.’ He said to me: ‘Jacopo, I’m an atheist, but I now believe in miracles.’
What I want to say is that the passion for the arts, the love for the people and solidarity are medicines. This is the real health reform we should undertake: doctors should prescribe, right next to drugs, things like ‘after meals, do art and do something for someone else’.
We are celebrating my father as he wished. I know many friends and comrades wanted to speak, but my father wanted something like this. And this is what we are doing. Someone asked me why we were playing the song ‘Stringimi forte i polsi dentro le mani tue’ (‘Hold my wrists tightly in your hands’). This is a song my father wrote for my mother, and he asked that this song should be played.
We are communists and atheists but after her death, my father didn’t stop talking to my mother, didn’t stop asking her advice, so we are a bit animists as well. Because it’s unreal to believe that someone really dies, come on. We just say so. And I’m sure that they are together now. Among the many messages we’ve received, one from a friend moved me. A father who has recently lost his little son, and who has been writing a letter a day to his son. And yesterday he wrote a letter to tell him who Dario Fo was. So I like to think that my mother and my father have met again and are laughing together. Thank you, comrades, thank you.”
I am so moved by your speech and the heart felt passion with which it was given…that story you so beautifully describe was as you know, with your father’s request, translated into English by a very good friend. One evening I was handed the piece by the translator and given permission to Direct it as long as I got permission from Dario, via his lovely agent and friend….I, like you and your wonderful family, your courageous mother and father, (who no doubt are shining a light upon you with beams of laughter and warmth) have always fought for the rights of the people most vulnerable in this world, the voices of which are so often dismissed and never heard…it is with a passion that I wrote a pleading letter asking for permission to perform it, explaining how and why etc… I was so excited when hearing that I was given the go ahead from your father and am so very grateful…I hold your parent’s story close to my heart and I hope to premier it soon in the form of physical theatre with much Commedia, in tow and I promise to do your parents, your childhood memory proud!…All I need to do now is just to find a space, the right space and a home for it and will do so, hopefully, very soon…thank you for sharing. I hope one day we can meet…my aim after presenting it in London, is to come to Italy with my band of actors, get a pony and cart and take it round the country to the villages who may or may not have had the opportunity to see live theatre….taking Italy’s rich legacy which is Dario Fo and Franca Rame and giving them back to the people, where their work began…with love to you and your family of friends,
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