If you’ve exhausted the Internet’s rich store of Bob Dylan think pieces, you might turn your attention to another Nobel laureate: Dario Fo, the Italian playwright, who died this week at ninety. The Vatican once declared his play Mistero Buffo, a kind of one-man political-satire revue, to be “the most blasphemous show in the history of television.” (If you’re confused, this was in 1977, well before the undeniably satanic Pretty Little Liars hit the airwaves.) As the New York Times has it, Fo and his late wife–collaborator, Franca Rame, did more to upend the art of political theater than anyone in their generation: “Basing their art on the tradition of the medieval jester and the improvisation techniques of commedia dell’arte, Mr. Fo and Ms. Rame thrilled, dismayed and angered audiences around the world. Together they staged thousands of performances, in conventional theaters, factories occupied by striking workers, university sit-ins, city parks, prisons and even deconsecrated churches.”
It’s worth reading Fo’s 1997 Nobel lecture in full; it features color drawings, glugging sounds, and a long aside about a glassblower, and is generally much more fun than speeches are supposed to be. Plus, it culminates in some sound advice:
Our job is—in keeping with the exhortation of the great Italian poet Savinio—“to tell our own story.” Our task as intellectuals, as persons who mount the pulpit or the stage, and who, most importantly, address to young people, our task is not just to teach them method, like how to use the arms, how to control breathing, how to use the stomach, the voice, the falsetto, the contracampo. It’s not enough to teach a technique or a style: we have to show them what is happening around us. They have to be able to tell their own story. A theater, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.
Now get out there and stay relevant, people.