Bine Maringer: makes a street theatre, thinks like an entrepreneur

Belle Etage promo photo of Splash
Bine in action (promo picture of Belle Etage’s show Splash by Buskerpics)

An interview with Bine Maringer on being an artist versus an entrepreneur, why you should think about your age when creating a show, how to get ready for a tour and why festival organisers should book female performers.

I have learnt that real artistic expression is not possible in the street art industry. To be booked and make a living out of it, you always have to think about your product first. If not, you will have a hard time selling it. 

Bine Maringer

When I met you in 2013, you were a street performer combing theatre with circus skills. How would you describe yourself now and how your life has changed compared to back then?

When we first met, I was very wild, and I didn’t take it as seriously as now. I partied so much that I hardly could perform the next day. I can remember more than once when I thought, “please let me die rather than perform”. Party hard first, business later. 

And now? I took over responsibility for my art industry and my career through various activities. I teach and share knowledge with The Show Salon and support young artists. I am active in culture political lobbying for street theatre. I engage in different organisations and networks. Finally, through a long learning process, I have discovered who I am as a female street performer.

For a long time, I thought my show needed to look like loud and high energy shows of my male colleagues. Even though I felt that this was not my style, I used to compare myself to them all the time, which made me unhappy. Now I know that my way is poetic and theatrical, but it took me ages to understand it.

Bine Maringer

What is your background? When was the first time you performed in front of strangers, and what was your artistic path since then?

My path is a serpentine line through the world of culture. I’ve worked, in front, on, and above a stage and backstage. I was a lighting designer and rigging for many years. I have worked in the theatre and for all kinds of events and concerts. I was just 17 when I started, and back then, the school wasn’t for me. 

I got on stage by accident after meeting Antagon Theatre Aktion in Amsterdam at a completely crazy welding festival. A Mad Max – post-apocalyptic festival, just what I liked back then. When I saw Antagon for the first time, it was very different from any other theatre piece I used to know. It was loud, it was crazy, it was dirty, and it was wild. I fell in love immediately, moved to Frankfurt and ten months later (it was 2004), I had my first real gig in Laos. 

Later I obtained my education in drama teaching, moved back to Vienna and founded Belle Etage. I gained my certification in cultural management and a master of arts degree in Performing Public Space. 

Now I am 39. It’s been the 11th year of Belle Etage. I am part of The Show Salon – a school for street theatre, and I do a lot of lobbying for street theatre and new circus in Vienna. I co-founded a circus festival, and we are currently working on an EVENTCALENDER for a contemporary circus in Austria. 

I try to use opportunities that open up. 

During your creation process, you think about the artistic part and the business one. How do you keep a balance between a show that sells and something that gives you satisfaction as an artist? 

Ayayay. It is a big problem for me. I couldn’t find a balance.

The street theatre business is challenging and takes a lot of time to organise everything. Sometimes I say that during the winter I am a secretary and a saleswoman, in the summer a truck driver and in between, I perform a little bit. 

Bine Maringer

I have learnt that real artistic expression is not possible in the street art industry. To be booked and make a living out of it, you always have to think about your product first. If not, you will have a hard time selling it. 

As the leader of Belle Etage, I am a businesswoman, but I can also find satisfaction in my successes as a theatre director. It is good to know where your priorities are. For a long time, I didn’t know them, and I was unhappy. I’ve sorted it out. 

I find my artistic joy and expression in other things and with other projects, like writing music, creating non-profit performances and so on.

Nuumad Music

You performed your Belle Etage’s show Dream for a couple of years. Meantime a second member of your duo has changed. How much did you modify it since the first version? 

It is always a new challenge to train a new team member, but it also brings great potential: new people, talents, ideas, opportunities, and new skills. 

I don’t play Dream anymore. This piece has had its day. 

Street theatre Belle Etage at BuskerBus Festival
Belle Etage performing at BuskerBus 2013 in Wrocław, photo Małgosia

At some point, I was on the pitch, and suddenly I couldn’t take any of this seriously—me playing a puppet, the whole story, and so on. Then I knew it was time to retire the performance. I’ve experienced a lot with Dream. It made me happy, but I’m also glad not to play a doll anymore. 

Bine Maringer

You have been working on new projects: Splash and Las Vegas Wedding Chappel. Tell me more about them.

Splash is an attempt to design a street theatre show according to my age. That might sound silly now, but I expect to play this show for the next 5 to 10 years. Then I will be almost 50.

We often forget that we are getting older and that our body is no longer as powerful as it was around our 30s. For me, that’s not a big deal. It means acting in a future-oriented manner and taking responsibility for myself and my body. I don’t want to hurt it entirely and not to be able to move when I’m older.  

Bine Maringer
Splash Teaster by Belle Etage

The Las Vegas Wedding Chapel is a fun project. The one that I do, simply because I think it’s funny, and also because it means diving into a whole new genre—the installation. I will build a pop-up Chapel in the Las Vegas style so that people can get married at the festival. In short: I will marry people to people, things to people and things to things and whatever will cross my way. They can choose: normal, hot and spicy, and so on. Let’s see how that will look like in the end. 

Therefore I made my Wedding Minister Certificate. I’m not kidding. I’m allowed to marry people in 49 U.S. States officially. Someone mentioned I should offer a divorce possibility; maybe I’ll set up a shredder for the document they will get in the end. 

It sounds like they might have to listen to your music afterwards. Congratulations on releasing your albums. You describe your music as “medicine songs for your ceremony, personal prayer and singing circle.” What is the story behind them? As you have recently shared not one but three albums, you must have enjoyed creating and recording them.

Yes, totally! Making music was at the top of my bucket list. But I just never had time for it. I use the pandemic to try out all the things I’ve always wanted to do. That’s a real gift!

With NUUMAD-medicine music, I have fulfilled a dream. To be in the studio, record professionally, and in the end, to have a professional music product in your hands. I learned a lot in a very short time. I wrote two albums and one EP in five months and recorded them in two months, which is crazy but possible due to the pandemic. 

It feels great to discover new talents!

Is every performer an artist? Would you say that, for example, sometimes a circus falls more into the sports category than into the theatre?

Oh, it’s a hot and controversial topic for me, yet not enough discussed. 

To entertain is a talent, to create art is a talent, and to make a circus is also a talent. You can have all, just one or some of them. 

I fear that the words “street artist”, in my case, are misleading. I feel more like an entrepreneur than an artist: I have to sell my product, and I develop new concepts after in-depth market analysis. At the festivals, I have to sell myself to attract the audience.

Bine Maringer

I have other projects where I feel and act as an artist but not in the field of street art. Although I am aware of that, which other words can I use for my job description than a street artist? I often use the expression: street theatre-maker, that describes better who I feel I am. I would also say I am a craftswoman whose craft is street performing.

I made my master of art degree ánd within this study, I felt like a real artist – someone who digs deep, wraps one head around a topic and is researching endlessly. Someone who discusses and reflects the process and starts to work from there without any economic or financial intention. 

Imagine that someone calls you and ask you to be an artistic director of a new street festival, but you have only five minutes to create a line-up. Who comes first to your mind? What kind of shows would you include?

Short answer: an only-female street theatre festival with a wide range of artistic genres and styles.

Female performers are still at a disadvantage, less programmed and booked. Always with the same excuse: “there are too few women”. 

I have a theory, though I don’t know if it’s really like that. I think the problem is not the number of female performers; I think the problem is that women make art differently and that the mostly male bookers are used to the way male performances look and feel like. 

Women are more subtle, more sensitive, maybe quieter, more reserved and think about other topics. They also make other jokes. Nevertheless, they are wild and energetic and talented. 

Bine Maringer

However, they are not male, and if bookers look for performances like “XYZ male performers,” they will hardly find a woman performing the same style. That’s the crux, maybe. Let’s discuss this!

You are the second person that points that out. I need to ask other organisers. How do you think festivals should choose artists? What would be your alternative to the applications?

  • Booking is still a matter of taste or salability, not a matter of showing a wide range of artistic expression. 
  • Attention should be paid to gender-equitable programming. 
  • Young acts should be promoted more.
  • New genres and new styles and female acts should be shown, in the best place and at the best time. 

Some programmers still haven’t understood that they control the audience’s taste with how they program a festival. 

Bine Maringer

When loud and high energy male shows always take place at the best time and in the best location, and the quiet experimental performances are placed far out of the centre, the audience learns what is good and bad, simply because the program tells them so. It’s called audience education. 

I have nothing against applications, that’s okay, better than these trade shows and webpages where you have to pay a lot of money to present yourself. I am still not sure what to think about them.

Almost a year ago, you wrote a post that you would not share your art as a stream on the Internet. Has your approach changed since then? 

No. I still don’t work online as a street performer. It just doesn’t work for me. Busking online is a controversy.

Busking builds on audience interaction and direct feedback and plays with the unexpected that happens on the street. I’ve seen a couple of shows online. They were partly funny but weren’t good at all. 

To put on a good show online, you need new technology that we haven’t developed yet. I can imagine if we can meet in a virtual room where we can be physically present through avatars, then something like busking can work. You also need completely new skills, a completely new show structure and performative qualities. I think it will be possible and happening in the future. Just give the digital revolution a bit more time. 

Making sad faces shine

What are your busking experience and the most memorable moments from the streets?

The best thing is making people smile. Making sad faces shine. Giving people a nice but unexpected moment. 

But on top of that is: feeling and living pure freedom! I can work: whenever I want, wherever I want, for how long I want. I can say and do what I want. I am my boss! 

Do you still busk?

No. Honestly, I have no time anymore to busk. I am active in so many cultural, cultural-political and artistic projects and organisations, I simply don’t have the time for that. And during the summer my time is so limited that I sometimes have problems travelling from one to the other festival. If I have free time, I love to spend it with my friends, which I rarely see in summer. Maybe I am getting old, haha.

What makes a performer also a good busker?

As simple as it sounds, as difficult it is: the ability to improvise and sensitivity for the needs of the audience and of the venue. 

A good busker needs the talent to be aware of everything that’s happening around him. And with everything, I mean everything: the wind, the sound, the mood of the audience and himself, the energy of a specific space, the ongoing distractions and interactions. It requires a high level of attention and concentration. 

Bine Maringer

What shows make you stop on the street?

Uniqueness and willingness to experiment. If I hear the first lame joke, the first phrase uttered a thousand times or a performer shouting around; then I move on. 

What are your favourite buskers or best street shows you have seen?

For me, true masters are those who have learned to connect empathetically and sensitively with the audience—people who can transform an ordinary place into a little wonderland with just their presence. They have learnt how to attract a lot of attention with soft tones and touch the heart and not the mind. True masters are courageous explorers who dare to try new things. 

Should busking be regulated?

Of course not! Busking is the last really free form of artistic expression. No censorship, no control, pure artistic freedom. But that’s what the politicians are afraid of: freedom and loss of control. The public spaces are increasingly becoming the battle zone of democracy. Hardly any other place is so much contested. It is a gold mine for capitalism and a socio-political space that, and I emphasise “still”, eludes total control. But we are best off to lose this still free space. 

It is everyone’s responsibility to keep public space free and public. Especially now in the pandemic where our freedom is being curtailed. 

You co-created an app Wisdom from the Pitch, and asked the buskers what would they say to the younger self. What were the most common answers? Has any of them surprised or inspired even you?

In the beginning, we were worried that we would get many of the same answers. It turned that all the answers are different, and each one has a little secret in it.

There is so much knowledge in the street art scene that is not written down. The knowledge is passed on from generation to generation, and something is always lost. We want to change that with The Show Salon. That is why we launched the Streeattheatre Masterclass and wrote down all of our knowledge in one year. We then packed it into different units and prepared it pedagogically, methodically and didactically. 

Wisdom from the Pitch promo

The App was a fun project to fill the pandemic gap, but it turned out to be a fantastic tool to connect with other performers and learn from them even if we are not able to meet and exchange in the backstage of a festival.

I’ve seen every video, and, yes, I’ve learned something from each of them. The truth is, we never stop learning; there is always something new to discover. 

Tips for Buskers

What tips do you have for people going for a tour for the first time? 

  • Take the time to plan. Take a close look at how your routes will be. 
  • Allow yourself extra time; there can always be delays. 
  • Better be the first at the festival than the last! 
  • Make a careful note of everything. 
  • See if there are alternative routes if the bus, train or plane is cancelled. 
  • Weigh your luggage exactly in case you have to fly. 
  • Make a packing list with all things for A.) the show and B.) for your private things. 
  • Think about when and where you can eat. Good nutrition is important. 
  • It is best to book your accommodation for stopovers in advance, then they are usually cheaper or organise a place to sleep before the tour, this saves you a lot of stress, and you are well rested for the next show. 
  • Never go on tour without knowing where you can get your spare parts for the show, e.g. where can you buy the fluid for your fire show or the organic confetti? 
  • Go to a doctor before the tour. Nothing is worse than a toothache and no dentist around. 

What’s a survival kit for a street performer? What objects do you always pack?

Sewing kit, pain pills, bandage, batteries, Leatherman, yoga mat, glucose, extra USB stick with all my show music, spare parts for my show equipment, blister plaster, charger, healing ointment, disinfectant, earplugs, condoms and business cards.

And finally, as you have performed in many places, what’s your favourite cuisine? Do you cook? Do you have any good recipe to share?

Okay, here we go.

I love travelling, and I love cooking. The best combination is to do a cooking workshop while travelling, so you can always bring home the taste of the country you visited. 

The recipe I will share with you is from a small island in Thailand. I was allowed to look over the shoulder of Bo, the chef, while he was cooking! 

Pad si ew – quick vegetarian noodle pot 

  1. Cut vegetables (zucchini, pak choi, carrots, white cabbage, broccoli and chilli
  2. Heat your wok with soybean oil
  3. Put 2-3 eggs in the very hot fat and stir.
  4.  Add the thick flat rice noodles and deglaze with water. 
  5. Add dark and light soy sauce, chicken/vegetable /vegan soup, salt and (sugar). 
  6. Add the cut vegetables to the pan. 
  7. Close the wok with the lid and cook until it is done. 

Serve it with coriander and a dash of lime juice

Cooking time: max. 20 minutes.

Thanks, Bine!

About Bine Maringer

Bine (Sabine Maringer MA) is an all-round artist who holds a Master of Arts in “Performing public space”. As an educated cultural manager and drama teacher, she has specialised in theatre in public spaces since 2004. Beside producing street theatre performances for special audiences in Vienna, she runs the contemporary circus festival- The KASKADE, and has been further researching theatre in public spaces. Since 2010 she has been touring all over the northern hemisphere with Belle Etage, her street theatre company. She is the co-founder of The SHOW SALON – School for Street Theatre.

Follow Bine

The Show Salon

Belle Etage

Nuumad Music

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