Women's theatre sells porn to bypass Spain tax hike - as tax on porn is less than tax on plays

(From left) Actresses Maria Herrero, Paloma de Pablo, Esther Acevedo and Karina Garantiva pose with old pornographic magazines at Nuevo Teatro Alcala in Madrid. The all-women theatre group has found an ingenious way around a sales tax hike that is cr
(From left) Actresses Maria Herrero, Paloma de Pablo, Esther Acevedo and Karina Garantiva pose with old pornographic magazines at Nuevo Teatro Alcala in Madrid. The all-women theatre group has found an ingenious way around a sales tax hike that is crippling Spanish theatres - by selling pornography. -- PHOTO: AFP

MADRID (AFP) - An all-women theatre group has found an ingenious way around a sales tax hike that is crippling Spanish theatres - by selling pornography.

The group registered as a distributor of pornographic magazines earlier this year after getting hold of around 300 back issues of a discontinued erotic magazine. Primas de Riesgo, or Risk Premium, now give a free ticket to their production of The Prodigious Magician, a 17th-century drama by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, in Madrid, with every 16 euro (S$26) porn magazine they sell.

With the sales tax on porn less than a fifth of that on plays, it allows them not only to keep ticket prices down but take a serious swipe at crisis-hit Spain's cultural policy.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government raised sales tax on tickets to movies, plays and concerts from 8 per cent to 21 per cent in September 2012 as part of its efforts to rein in the public deficit as unemployment rocketed. The sales tax on magazines remained at 4 per cent. "We want people to ask what kind of a society makes this kind of decision. That they compare pornography and Calderon, who is Spain's Shakespeare, and reach their own conclusions," said the group's director, 34-year-old Karina Garantiva.

"We don't want subsidies, we are a private initiative. The best subsidies are fiscal measures that don't prevent me from doing my work," added Ms Garantiva, who moved to Spain from Colombia 12 years ago.

Audiences at cultural events have slumped since the sales tax hike, according to a study by the National Federation of Theatre and Dance Business Associations (FAETEDA).

Figures show that in the first 12 months after it took effect audiences fell from 13.1 million to 9.3 million, a 29 per cent decline, according to the association.

Takings from cultural events in Spain during the same period fell by more than a quarter and 1,800 jobs in the sector were lost.

"It's a real state of emergency," said Mr Jesus Cimarro, a Madrid theatre producer who heads the association.

The group wants the government to reduce the sales tax on theatre tickets to 10 per cent, the same rate as in Italy, which is also under pressure to reduce its public deficit.

It points out that the sales tax on cultural services in neighbouring France is only 5.5 per cent, while in Germany it is 7 per cent.

"Just with this measure (of reducing the tax), a medium or large theatre company could stage three or four more productions per year," said Mr Cimarro.

The government argues the sales tax hike on theatre tickets is needed to balance the public accounts and has shown no sign that it is willing to lower it.

The Primas De Riesgo theatre group vow to keep selling porn magazines until the government lowers the tax.

"If the sales tax changes, we will suspend our campaign. If not, we will pursue this until the end," said Ms Garantiva.

"We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. We shouldn't complain, we should work to change it," she added.

The initiative has been well received by the public who bought 180 porn magazines with their free entries to the opening night performance of The Prodigious Magician on Nov 25.

"It seems like an original way to fight the economic massacre artists are facing and I totally support it," said Ms Diana Irazabal, as she browsed her copy of the porn magazine during the performance at Madrid's New Alcala Theatre.

The novel protest has its critics, however, including some who have questioned the morality of distributing pornography.

But Ms Garantiva hit back: "What is immoral is not that women distribute porn magazines, but that the government offers subsidies to these publications and not to its cultural heritage."