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Many years ago, in about 1970, I was giving a series of Carnival performances here in Venice in a Circusstyle big top that covered all of that huge square next to the famous winding staircase,...
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7 February 2009

Many years ago, in about 1970, I was giving a series of Carnival performances
here in Venice in a Circusstyle big top that covered all of that huge square next to the famous winding staircase, which overlooks the whole city thanks to its fifty or so windows. If I remember rightly, I was due to perform on Shrove Saturday on that occasion too and I had been on the stage all afternoon with the technicians
sorting out the light and sound systems. I remember that it was really cold and
that we had to keep stamping our feet and clapping our hands to keep warm.
At a certain point a group of musicians with drums and wind instruments came
in and started playing a kind of ballad I already knew, which had a refrain that
“Se ti no me te vol pi ben/
mi anderò a Candìa con ‘na galota
e pìntarò su la randa i toi ogi/
ti che no me ha volsùo pi ben.”
By playing it at lightning speed, these musicians, all dressed up in Carnival
costumes, had transformed this desperate lament into a kind of riotous dance, because the important thing was to keep everyone jumping up and down so they could keep warm. All kinds of passers-by were attracted by this rumpus and they followed each other into the marquee too. They were all wearing Carnival costumes and once inside they started leaping about to the music, some timidly, some madly.
At a certain point the manager of the marquee managed to make himself
heard above the racket. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “we are running
late and we still have to put out all the chairs. So if we want to start the show
on time, can you give us a hand?” The kerfuffle that followed was like a strange
kind of balletic pantomime, as chairs and stools were thrown from one person
to the next and dumped down any old how. In a twinkling there were seats
everywhere, even on the stage, and the audience, all in fancy dress, came rushing in to sit down. Then having got comfortable they shouted in chorus at me, “Come on, we’re ready, you can start now!” I fixed my microphone on my chest and went on stage, but I was immediately interrupted by an English television crew from the BBC, who I had promised a space for three cameras to, so they could film the show. Luckily, a group of Pulcinellas and Ballanzons came to our rescue, but they insisted that the English crew wear masks. There were some policemen at the back of the tent too. “O maschere o fora!” (Masks or out!) shouted a group of girls , “l’unigo che pol restà a facia neta l’è lù!” (the only one who doesn’t have to wear a mask is him! ). And about a hundred fingers pointed at me. I can truthfully say that the feeling of being normal, of standing up in front of that crazy, colourful crowd of people with their guignol masks and not being in fancy dress, made me feel really important. Wherever I looked I saw men dressed as women or animals, women dressed as queens and kids having a whale of a time, popping in and out of everyone’s legs. When I opened my mouth to present the performance, a complete silence fell immediately. It was as if the
audience had become some kind of huge, painted bas-relief and that what I really had behind me was a backdrop of puppets and marionettes. Laughs exploded like Carnival firecrackers and the applause rang out like pieces of wood banged together in perfect time. I can’t remember which story I narrated. Perhaps it was Jesus’ first miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus. Franca, my wife, who was there too, in Carnival costume, said she could not understand which work I performed. But those masked costumes were as happy as normal men and women:  it was the Venice Carnival after all.
Dario Fo