By Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) -A Greek actor has forced the cancellation of a Eugene Ionesco play in Athens after refusing to perform only for vaccinated audiences, drawing criticism and praise in equal measure amid a surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.
Coronavirus cases in Greece hit record highs this month, prompting the government to impose more restrictions on the public life of unvaccinated people this week, banning them from indoor venues including restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms.
Greece has so far fully vaccinated about 62% of its population of around 11 million, below the European average of 67%. Authorities hope the rules will sway people to get the shot.
Aris Servetalis, a popular actor who starred in Ionesco’s 1959 absurdist play “Rhinoceros”, announced he was stepping down in an Instagram post late on Tuesday. The Kivotos theatre said the production was postponed indefinitely.
“I cannot support the segregation of people imposed by the new measures,” wrote Servetalis, who has voiced scepticism over the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. “We are a society of individuals, not a herd divided between vaccinated and not.”
His decision drew a firestorm of criticism from across the entertainment world, which has been hard hit by several lockdowns since the pandemic began after already suffering during years of economic crisis.
“I am shocked,” said Spyros Bibilas, who heads the Greek Actors’ Association. “I did not expect an actor to stop a show, ignoring that other people work there too. I find it unacceptable.”
Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis tweeted his dismay, saying: “Are these reasons for leaving his colleagues unemployed, because he is not getting his way in the country?”
Responding to the criticism, Servetalis said he had informed the theatre company and the director in July of his intentions to leave if such measures were taken, allowing them time to find a replacement.
Thousands of Greeks took to social media to congratulate Servetalis, dubbed by some news outlets as “the hero of the anti-vaxxers.” Protests against vaccinations drew crowds of thousands this summer.
“It was about time someone said NO,” one Instagram user wrote below the actor’s post. “Ι bow to your ethos and integrity,” another said.
In Rhinoceros, Servetalis played the central character Berenger, the only resident of a provincial French town who does not turn into the animal. Theatre of the Absurd pioneer Ionesco had called it an anti-Nazi play.
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alex Richardson)