A smile who walks

I always connected Alcatraz near Gubbio with rain. No matter how many times I found the sun. The first time I came to Jacopo Fo there was rain and I was lost in the curves of Gubbio road so now for me Alcatraz is rain and grey clouds.

Last time I went there was to attend Ecofuturo but, above all, to meet among the attendees my friends who are always joyful and positive, those who believe in a better world and work hard every day to achieve it. It was one day in late summer with a beautiful light in the Umbrian hills and a road winding to it that looks like a pearl necklace on a soft female body.

It was late August but I was not prepared to meet a sun who smiles and walks so close to the ground.

We arrived and began to greet the many friends, all Italian and most of them who speak Italian, in all its territorial forms, but not English. Gavin had accompanied me imagining having to spend three days in solitary writing until someone tells us “look there is Mario who speaks good English.”

We looked for Mario.

We find a smile walking towards us, an acrobat cumjester able to enchant in Italian and English. Mario Pirovano is an ageless man and I do not think he is the years that he declares. For me he is a curious child who tells stories so as to not be scolded by his mother.

We find him with a group of children: he was playing the role of a dragon while, with his words, he was creating worlds and scenes and bring people in another time. His words draw pictures and colours in the air and catch you in a time machine. By magic you are in 1200 with St. Francis, then you’re working with Picasso and finally at the Cathedral of Modena.

The life story of Mario is incredible. From a modest family, he began working at age of 12 years, at age 24 he left Italy and settled in London, where he had a variety of activities. As many Italians, he become waiter and his affable and “harlequinesque” manner led him to be the best waiter, the one who at the end of evening had his pockets bulging with tips.

Customers would compete to be served by him and regularly a customer would offer to open new restaurants and go into partnership in various parts of the world. He could go to Melbourne in a day but, he wonders, to do what? If you’re always a waiter in a restaurant, whether it is in London or Melbourne what changes?

But his life changed suddenly one evening when for the first time he went to the theatre. A couple of Italians, those being Dario Fo and Franca Rame – of whom he had heard so much but had never seen – had just arrived in London. He entered the theatre and when the show began he was kidnapped by the text and by the method of acting. He decided that he could not just stop in the audience, but he must investigate, understand more.

He went to greet them in their dressing room and expressed his joy. What happened next is amazing and his life changed. He started following Dario and Franca on tour doing everything: from the stage operator to silent parts, from the driver to head of sales of books and audio/video. He joined the family quietly and slowly, as if on tiptoe, driven by his passion for the theatre and for the stories that Dario knows how to build with simple words while summarizing deep understanding.

In Milan, Mario had to stay a few days in the house of Dario Fo before finding his quarters … and he spent 10 years! A brother? I do not know and no one will ever know. A shadow, of course.

One day his life changed again. It was summer and he was working for the Free University of Alcatraz, founded by Jacopo Fo, when provoked by a group of kids, he told them an episode of Mistero Buffo. He get on the stage and he felt “at home”. He read, jumped and danced as if he did it all his life. He did not want to get off!

He had experienced what the Zen masters try to explain but that few can experience. He had internalized so deeply the life of the actor that he had become one, but he had been able to discover it only by going up on stage.

Since then, Mario has not only performed from the stage but he has turned his life into a stage. And this is how we have come to know him. With his magic, he brought us onto his stage and gave us his rays of sun.

He is a sunny smile who walks. From today the image of Alcatraz will no longer be tied to rain.