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Olly Crick Interview on Dario Fo’s Classic Performance the Zanni

Olly Crick Interview on Dario Fo’s Classic Performance the Zanni

Duration 13 mins

Here is the link to the Dario fo Video that we are reviewing.

https://vimeo.com/214360465/ba4559211d

Tony: Okay, Mr. Olly Crick It’s been a while since we’ve spoken and I’d like to do a quick interview with you. Where… I found a video of Dario Fo and I wanted to find out a little bit more what he was talking about. But he was speaking in Italian. So we put some English captions under there so that we could, us, monolingual can actually understand what he’s saying. And to my surprise he came up with some interesting analogies of what a Zanni is.

Olly: Okay. Yes… No… I’ve seen video. It is one of Dario Fo’s classic routines. The thing always about on a Dario Fo and Commedia is… Is the first thing is…
Anyone who says okay, Commedia is a tradition is a… is kind of lying because it was all invented from 1946 and the same thing is, Dario Fo is a highly skilled… Sorry, was highly… Was a highly skilled and was a highly political okay performer.

So if you put those two together, He is using a reinvented tradition as it were, cause it’s always sold as traditional presented as traditional… to present his political views… or even ideological views. Now that… This actually refers to his meaning of the word Zanni.

My understanding of it is that it’s simply an abbreviation of Giovanni. Okay, this is from Duchartre the book which is simply Italian for John. So like all the servants were referred to as John as you Antipodean might refer to someone as mate… you know… or something like that… Now… Or… you know… or as we English still think it’s probably cold over. Let’s not go there…

There is… it got abbreviate…the name Zan as an abbreviation, got used as a suffix or a pre…. sorry… as a prefix to Some professional performers you got Zan Franca Tripper… We got Zan Piazza, you know all these names. So it became the particular zanni who did that…

Now, Fo refers to it in the video as a Zanni is someone who is starving… Now, this simply means that he is presenting to us a version of the Zanni who was starving, which is his entire piece. Now, he is quite right historically in saying that at particular times just before Commedia broke out Say about I think from 1550s onwards… they were… there was… I’m not quite sure that…

If I started talking about the exactitude of the economic situation, then that would kind of go off into all sorts of sore tracks. But basically, a whole bunch of peasants in the urban surrounds… sorry… in the rural surrounds of Venice, from the Po Valley, from the mountains of Bergamo, from the Veneto found themselves unable to sell their products. So there was a class of starving rural peasants who were basically coming in looking for work.

Tony: This is where I sort of came in on this is that when he was talking about it, they were saying that there were squads pulling bodies out on a daily basis from the canals because they were committing suicide or they would just die from famine and I thought this was very strange because How would an actor play such comedy from such a destitute situation… from a people that were starving…

Olly: Well, okay, there’s two things… that one is an actor would play out of their political purpose. So if we’re looking at why does an… See Fo’s not just an actor Fo’s a creator. So he’s creating some… so he’s creating an act… so he’s creating a performance out of his own purpose and then he’s performing it.

So, the two are sort of linked because there’s a guy called Antonio Scuderi… Who’s… who’s book on Dario Fo, I will post up as part of a short bibliography. Makes a very interesting point that basically all of Fo’s performances when he’s doing a solo show, are always preceded by Fo… rambling on for large amounts of time to the audience, but this isn’t actually rambling on, it’s very very pointed and is actually part of the performance if you look at… if you look at the texts, like in the book of Fo’s Mistero Buffo There’s all these…

Okay, before each of his Mystery Plays there is a little prologue when he says I have found this in some ancient… manuscript… in a library in blah blah blah blah blah and this is the true story of… Zanni to which Mr. Scuderi says ” yeah, right…”

It’s basically, this is part of Fo’s performance. He’s giving you a prologue. So he’s making some of these references up… I think it’s quite clear… or that he made it quite clear in order to create the situation whereby he was giving the audience clues as to how to watch his performance. So if he performed his… you know… Zanni piece okay straight up, we wouldn’t get as much meaning of it as if he hadn’t explained to us about… all these, you know… about all these… you know… starving Zannis…

Now, there’s an awful lot of academic waffle from a bit very pointed… some of it is waffle about Fo and Improvisation and he called it an aside… He would always talk to the audience before he performs… One as a performer you are gauging your audience before you do your set pieces… you’re chatting to them… But you’re also giving the audience of context whereby they understand… and it’s often very modern context… whereby they will understand the piece you’re just about to perform for them.

So, the issue with Fo is that his sources… when he says there’s a source… it’s kind of unreliable you know, I wouldn’t care to say the man’s a liar because he’s Italian… that you know… and he stares at you on the video and says ” this is true! “

But he’s on stage and he’s giving us a context with which we wish to understand his pieces. So that’s the first bit of the answer, if we can kind of you know… park that there, is he is… as a non-aligned Marxist, he is basically saying, you know… The situation of the working-classes was shite then… he’s extremely left looking socialist with strong tendencies to Gramsci’s order of Marxism which is… it has local, you know… there isn’t a one-size-fits-all Marxism it actually has to fit the place… or a particular cultural circumstances… okay, within which it exists. So that’s the first part the answer…

The second part of the answer is I think Commedia dell’Arte is… means exactly the same as… as a hybrid mongrel literary form they call Tragicomedy… So, we have comedy which is there to create a laugh… we have tragedy which is there to give us a moral lesson…

Commedia dell’Arte kind of fits half way between the two… in sixteen something… or rather the Académie Française in France who were the supreme literary arbiters of taste and what you can get away with, said there is a genre called Tragedy and there is a genre called Comedy but there is definitely not a genre called “tragic comedy”…

Right, they were kind of opposed to it. And my feeling or my theory what that is, is that in tragic comedy you could present extremely awful situations for human beings and then show some miraculous… escape from them… But in terms of stage time, in order to set up the laugh or the comedy… You had to set up and make the audience believe in the grim situation first… so let’s say if you have a look at this performance piece from Fo… The… his tonality in the first half is… very serious. He is my… you know… his he is talking about starving… it is oh my god! and it’s not… and he’s talking about the real situation…

So he’s saying ” as if I could eat my eye like an egg”… “as if I could eat my ear”… but he’s not twinkling the audience… he’s not making jokes… Then, there’s a point later when we, the audience, accept that. He goes into like surreal imagination and starts to imagine, one cooking pot and then he’s enjoying cooking a man… he makes a situation funny about having to deal with two cooking pots and a sticky polenta stick… and then, he creates a third one… and has issues with you know… like a chicken kills it’s so hungry… just eats the head, finds an egg in it. Just eats the egg roll and you know… and goes into full on clown goofiness… ” aahhh I’ve just eaten an egg man…”

So, I think what Dario Fo realizes about Commedia is… it is… very much to do with what Lecoq and a few other early Commedia revivalists or inventors called… Giovanni Poli called the Poetics of Survival and the poetics is laughter, but we are presenting the problems of survival… which we all… okay… deal with in a comic way because if we presented it in a tragic way, the audience will go. ” Yeah, that’s real life, man! I’m not going to stay and watch that…” if it’s you know… Street Theater That’s too much live reminding me how shit things are…

So actually what we want is someone to note that we have our… that we share a terrible situation in terms of survival, but make us laugh with it… So, Fo is quite complicated. So… I know you know… all that for my little 10-minute piece with explanation and stuff… but if you look at his tonality of voice and the way he acts it, the second half when he’s dealing with all the pans is comic… and the first half is… he’s you know… he’s drawing us into the emotional horror and tenor of the situation…

Tony: Okay, so I guess you’ve grasped that completely. I mean I had no idea that Dario Fo was you know… setting up his audience in that way… and then delivering the comedy… there’s a few other skits of his out there on YouTube, which I found and now I see the similarity, how he explains what he’s about to do. So, all I can say is “thank you”! because I’m gonna try and wind up our interview now.

Olly: Okay…

Tony: So, you filled in a lot of mystery and and history listening to you. So, thank you!

Olly: Speak loudly to Australia cause it’s a long way away…

Tony: Yes, over there at the UK. Okay, thanks!

Olly: We’re freezing!

Tony: We’re steaming! Okay, goodbye Olly.

Olly: Alright

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