Spanish theater mounts shows -- and a 'carrot rebellion'

CarrotBESCANO, Spain -- Theater buffs no longer have to buy tickets for shows staged in this small Spanish village. Instead, they must purchase a rather expensive carrot.

That's the novel admission scheme hit upon by the director of Bescano's municipal theater, Quim Marce. Dismayed by a recent government tax hike on theater-ticket sales, Marce decided to abolish normal tickets and instead sell vouchers for carrots, with "free" admission to the show thrown in.

"We sell one carrot, which costs 13 euros [about $17], which I admit is very expensive for a carrot. But then we give away admission to our shows," Marce, 43, said in an interview Thursday at his theater. "So we end up paying 4% tax on the carrot, rather than 21%, which is the government's new tax rate for theater tickets."

Critics call it tax evasion. The Spanish media call it the Carrot Rebellion, another example of the creative lengths some Spaniards are willing to go to in order to get around austerity measures -- tax hikes and budget cuts -- imposed by the central government in Madrid.

Marce just calls it a way for his little theater to survive in this pretty village of about 4,000 people, in verdant hills about two hours north of Barcelona. With one in four local residents unemployed, even a modest hike in ticket prices might leave his 300-seat theater empty.

"And in this farming region, I naturally thought of carrots," he said.

Classified as a staple, carrots are subject to a 4% tax that was left unchanged when other taxes went up across Spain on Sept. 1. The highest value-added tax (VAT) rate on items like new cars and clothing rose from 18% to 21%, despite a campaign promise by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy not to touch the top VAT rate, and the sales tax on movie and theater tickets soared from 8% to the new 21% rate.

"It seems to me like a great idea, because culture shouldn't be taxed so much," said Pilar Bayé, 45, a civil servant in Bescano who bought two carrots for admission to a show next month. "Culture should be accessible to all the people."

The Bescano theater's new logo features a carrot with the motto "For the Health of Culture," and is printed on posters tacked up on telephone poles throughout the village and on a huge banner hung in front of cornfields at the entrance to town. Carrots cost 13 euros if you buy them online in advance and 15 euros ($19.55) at the door.

Marce said the theater has re-recorded the standard audio announcement that plays before performances begin, warning the audience to turn off mobile phones.

"Now we've added, 'No chomping loudly on your carrots during the show,' " he said.

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-- Lauren Frayer

Photo: Residents of one Spanish town can purchase culture with their carrots. Credit: Sam Hodgson / Bloomberg

 
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