Spanish Theater Sells Carrots to Protest Tax Hike on Tickets

Despite financial crisis and plunging admissions, a small stage sold out thanks to a one-day "Carrot Rebellion," but cinemas are unlikely to follow suit.

MADRID - Two months after Spain's sales tax hike bumped the rate on theater admissions from 8 percent to 21 percent, theater director Quim Marce came up with an idea for how to dodge the initiative by handing out one free ticket for his theater's opening night show with the purchase of a carrot.

Marce earlier this month sold each carrot, a staple food item that carries a much lower rate of 4 percent sales tax, for €13 ($16.60) for the futuristic black comedy Suicidas at the 330-seat Bescano Theater in a small town outside Girona in Spain's northeastern Catalan region. The normal ticket price would have been the same, but the theater only pays the lower rate of sales tax by offering the carrots.

With a whopping 25 percent unemployment rate, a budget deficit unlikely to meet its 6.3 percent target this year and an expected 1.5 percent economic decline in 2012, the Spanish government has adopted deep austerity measures as part of its 2013 budget plans. Additionally, the central government raised the sales tax from a standard 18 percent to 21 percent. Movie and theater admissions had enjoyed special status, enabling them to charge only 8 percent until the new rate system took effect in September.

As a result, Spanish retail sales fell at the sharpest pace since 2006, with a 10.9 percent plunge in September compared with the year-ago period, according to the National Statistics Institute.

"We wanted to make our complaint about the new rate very clear," Marce told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm not looking to start a revolution. But we have to do something so that theaters don't close either." For now, the measure was just a one-off.

According to Marce, other theaters and cinemas from around Spain have contacted him to ask about the logistics of orchestrating his protest, but none has so far actually put in place similar measures.

"It is certainly something I would do again," Marce said when asked if he could bring back the carrot stunt. "We had a full house that night."

While the measure was applauded as a smart way to protest, many complained that it couldn't be an effective long-term solution as it would likely be seen as tax evasion and would penalize companies that follow the law.

When the tax increase was announced in July, the film industry denounced it as the nail in the coffin amid dropping movie admissions and rampant piracy.

"The tax hike is the icing on the cake after piracy and a general drop in attendance," Borja de Benito of the Spanish Federation of Exhibitors, said at the time. "It will be very difficult for exhibitors to weather this new initiative."

But to date, a spokesperson for the federation said no movie exhibitors have staged a similar protest and there are no plans in the works to do so.