Dario Fo, the great Italian playwrite, director and actor, died a on October 13, 2016. He was 90 years old. Fo was an agitator. He was someone who fought and was sympathetic to others who fought for the working class and the poor. Dario Fo worked with his partner, the Italian actress Franca Rama.
Even though I have had limited opportunity to see Fo’s work, although I was on the Board of the Great Canadian Theatre Company, GCTC when Fo’s play Open Couple (titled for the GCTC production Open Marriage (Wide Open) was presented in the 1986/87 season I have always admired the personality of these two people who devoted the full force of their creativity to fighting for the liberation of working people.
So when I heard about Fo’s death ( Franca Rama died in 2013 ) I started thinking about who Canada and in particular, Vancouver’s Dario Fo &Franca Rama would be.
Here they are right in my back yard. Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling, founders and on going Executive and Artistic Directors respectively of the Vancouver Moving Theatre, home of Vancouver’s Heart of the City Festival
In the West Coast Canadian context, I can’t help but think of Terry and Savannah when I read about Dario Fo and Franca Rama. Both couples have built their relationship and their theatre practice over the last 30 years working in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver with ideas born there and in similar communities and with people who live and work there. Together they use theatre, music and all forms of art to tell stories of the people and communities who make up the downtown east side (DTES).
The DTES really is the heart of Vancouver–its historical centre.
The DTES forms part of the traditional territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam First Nations. European settlement of the area began in the mid-19th century, and most early buildings were destroyed in the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886. Residents rebuilt their town at the edge of Burrard Inlet, between Cambie and Carrall Streets, a townsite that now forms Gastown and part of the DTES. At the turn of the century, the DTES was the heart of the city, containing city hall, the courthouse, banks, the main shopping district, and the Carnegie Library. Travellers connecting between Pacific steamships and the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway used its hundreds of hotels and rooming houses. Large Japanese and Chinese communities settled in Japantown within the DTES, and in nearby Chinatown. So, too was it a centre for Vancouver’s Jewish, Ukrainian and Russian Communities — citizens who were very involved in supporting the thousands of unemployed who fought the injustices brought on by the depression and its itinerant poverty and racism.
In 1942, the neighbourhood lost its entire ethnic Japanese population, estimated at 8,000 to 10,000, due to the Japanese-Canadian internment. Most did not return to the once-thriving Japantown community after the war.
The stories of the historic communities of the DTES as well as more contemporary issues including poverty, gentrification, community, neighbourhoods and reconciliation are the focus of the the community-engaged art of Terry and Savannah and the Vancouver Moving Theatre (VMT)! They definitely work in the spirit of Dario Fo & Franca Rana not to mention the many artists and activists from the communities with whom the VMT works everyday.