Ageless Goddess: Yıldız Kenter
Even mentioning her name is enough to evoke the image of a dreamy lady with complete delicacy and elegance. Add to that a sparkling mind with a great appetite for acting. One may not be mistaken at all, comparing her to a Goddess, seeing her performing on a stage totally merged into a character. Far more than an outstanding actress, she has also been an inspiring teacher spreading the love of theatre among many actors and actresses.
She is not one of those born with a silver spoon in her mouth, on the contrary, she achieved her fabulous success with a strong determination and 60 full years of hardwork. In short her life story is quite inspirational and a perfect guide for those who share ideals as tough as hers. So it’s better to go step by step through her timeline.
She was born as a fifth child in a caring family in October 1928. Her British mother, Olga Cynthia, met her father Ahmet Naci Bey in London where he was working as foreign service officer. After the marriage the duo came to Istanbul. However things turned out to be sour for the family, as in that period the Turkish work authorities were disapproving the marriage with a foreigner. Opposing to this foolish argument, Ahmet Naci Bey submitted his resignation. From then on, as a whole family, they moved to Ankara where Yıldız Kenter’s father began to work as a translator. The financial difficulties began to arise at that time but Olga Cynthia did her best to keep the family with integrity and love, supporting her husband by all means.
Meanwhile Yıldız Kenter, who has been a very successful student in elementary school, began to have trouble in high school where she failed geometry and maths. She refused to take the makeup exams, and instead declared her intention to go to the conservatory. Her statement gave rise to a heated debate in the house between her and her mother, who was not feeling at ease with the fact that the conservatory was a pension offering a coeducation. The strong discussion concluded in favour of Yıldız Kenter when Ahmet Naci Bey subscribed her daughter secretly to the conservatory, conceiving her unstoppable persistence.
One can say that her enthusiasm for the art, especially for acting, became clearly apparent during the afternoons she spent at ‘People’s Houses’ (Halkevleri). Founded in 1932, those community centres had the objective to open up an intellectual horizon for the youth by offering courses on theatre, music, literature, sport, art and history for free. Longing for acting, she would run in a hurry to this therapy zone, right after the school.
Following these encouraging courses, she passed the conservatory exam with excellency and even promoted the first year of the school due to her high performance. The famous theatre director Carl Ebert who was in charge of the conservatory at that time, highlighted her talent at the institute by stating that she was capable of playing any leading role due to her natural skills and fluid body language. Gratuated in 1948, she had her first professional part in a play named “Twelfth Night”.
Later on, having the approbation by the ‘Cultural Commitee’, she went to London where she had her first encounter with her beloved Shakespeare plays in major theatre halls. Her hunger for acting continued to be fed in New York and Canada, where she went to as many plays as she could during her long stay, thanks to the Rockefeller scholarship. There, she also participated in programs dedicated to talented professional actors/actresses at American Theatre Wing and Neighborhood Playhouse. Meanwhile she won recognition from many authorities due to her talks on acting in institutions like Yale Drama School. Of course her fluency in English was also a great asset throughout her career.
Acting was not her sole activity, she also took many initiatives as stage director, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger being her first attempt. However she stated that her main preference has always been acting over many other things.
The journey In Istanbul
Muhsin Ertuğrul, who was in charge of the State Theatre in Ankara, was a close friend/mentor of Yıldız Kenter and her (also) talented actor brother Müşfik Kenter. Following Ertuğrul’s dismissal from his position, the duo also resigned and followed Ertuğrul’s way to Istanbul where they would begin to display their new performances. The cheerful audience in the new city, fascinated by the splendid harmony of the siblings on stage, was purchasing the tickets weeks before the plays’ premiere.
This intensive demand merging with the flaming ambition of Yıldız Kenter, sparked off the idea of constructing a new theatre venue in Istanbul. Unfortunately the funds from the government were scarce, if none, to cover the expenses of a private theatre. But far from an excuse, this scarcity made the actress even eager to try all possibilities in order to realize her big dream.
As a result, Kenter Tiyatrosu was founded in 1968 through a very creative financial plan, “Seats Put Up for Sale”. This funding plan became very successful where the art-lovers participated by purchasing seats in the hall and they were honoured having their names displayed on the back of the related seats. The collaborators ranged from big companies to valuable artists such as Zeki Müren and Müzeyyen Senar. With this generous contribution, Kenter Tiyatrosu opened its curtains with Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. (The venue still continues to operate today with various inspiring performances.)
So in love with the theatre itself, Yıldız Kenter took also part in publishing a monthly magazine named ‘Kent Oyuncuları Aylık Tiyatro Dergisi’. Besides featuring the program of the current plays, the magazine also offered a very enlightening content including subjects related to music and literature, author/play promotion, information on the world theatre scene and short play scripts. Recognised authors like Aziz Nesin and Haldun Taner were among the authors of the magazine.
For Yıldız Kenter, her performance was not the mere importance. One of her other major intentions was to teach and also learn from the future-talent of the stage and to make the delightful journey sustainable. For this aim she gave lessons in many institutions like Istanbul Municipality Conservatory and Koç University. She also worked as General Art Director in Istanbul State Conservatory for several years. Some of her students and coworkers were: Ali Poyrazoğlu, Müjdat Gezen, Mustafa Alabora, Perran Kutman, Erdal Özyağcılar, Genco Erkal, Hakan Gerçek, Nilgün Belgün, Berna Laçin, Demet Evgar, Mehmet Ali Alabama, and Okan Yalabık.
Known for her timeless talent, discipline based work ethic and profound professional love, Kenter devoted her life to her ideals. Her dedication was appraised via many awards, including her “State Artist” recognition. Always heading for more, she has been very courageous and determined to create a vivid scene for theatre. I was one of the lucky ones seeing her perform on the stage at “Kraliçe Lear” in her 80s, and was totally amazed to notice how she challenged the years without loosing a bit from her energy.
Long live – The Goddess!
Source: “Tiyatro Benim Hayatım” – Dikmen Gürün Yapı Kredi Yayınları