Kenter, Yildiz (1928–)

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Kenter, Yildiz

Actress, drama professor, writer, and director Yildiz Kenter is the best-known woman to have worked at the Turkish State Theater. Kenter has dedicated her life to the performing arts, having written, performed, and directed over one hundred plays and has been honored for her lifelong work with various national and international awards. She is currently a lecturer for theatrical arts at the Ankara State Conservatory.


Kenter, the daughter of Naci and Olga Cynthia Nadide Kenter, was born Ayșe Yildiz. Her father was a successful diplomat for foreign affairs and had helped Ismet Inönü, the first prime minister of Turkey, to prepare the documents for the Lausanne Treaty (1922–1923). After he fell in love with an Englishwoman, he was asked to quit his position with the government. The woman, Olga Cynthia, converted to Islam after their marriage and took the Turkish name Nadide. She loved children, and had one child from her first marriage and five from her second with Naci Kenter. Yildiz Kenter was the fifth child, born on 11 October 1928. Her younger brother, Müșfik Kenter, is also a well-known theater performer in Turkey.


Name: Yildiz Kenter (Ayșe Yildiz)

Birth: 1928, Istanbul, Turkey

Family: Husband, Nihat Akcan; daughter Leyla from first marriage to Akcan; second marriage with Șükran Güngör (1926–2002)

Nationality: Turkish

Education: Graduated from the Ankara State Conservatory Drama Department


  • 1947–1958: Actress and theater director in state theaters
  • 1958: Founds the Kent Players
  • 1959–1962: Receives prestigious Rockefeller scholarship, continues education at the American Theater Wing, Neighborhood Playhouse, and the Actor's Studio
  • 1981: Honored as State Actress
  • 1984: Receives Adelaide Ristori Award
  • 1991: Honored with International Lions Club "Melvin Jones" award
  • 1995: Honorary Award from the Turkish Ministry of Culture for her services to the Theatrical Arts
  • 1998: Receives "Player of the Year" Award
  • 1999: Receives the President's Grand Award for Art and Culture and the Afife Jale Best Actress Award
  • 2001: Honored with the Ismet Küntay Best Play Award

Kenter describes her childhood as follows: "My mother would always bring the cats and dogs and even people she found on the streets home. We had always a crowd of strangers in our house. A grandpa who was selling vegetables, a Scottish French person, and a soldier lived for a while with us. Later my mother brought a woman, who gave birth to her baby on the streets and was homeless for seven days, with her home" (Hürriyet, 13 December 1998). The foundation for her acting career is, in a way, related to her encounters with the various people who lived with them and whose lives exemplified comedy, tragedy, and drama for Kenter. However, the family's generosity and goodwill in opening its doors for needy people did not go hand in hand with their own financial situation. After losing his well-paying government job, Naci Kenter fell into depression, began drinking, and could not provide for his family. When Yildiz Kenter was born, as the actress illustrates in an interview in Hürriyet, the family lived in poverty and her mother used to make her diapers out of bed sheets. However, the situation changed when her father was offered a job at Ziraat Bankasi (a Turkish bank) in Ankara. The family moved to the capital where Kenter attended elementary school. Her mother offered private English lessons to the children of wealthy families, adding additional financial support to the family. Despite all obstacles, Kenter's perception of her childhood is very positive as she describes it as filled with happiness, love, and tolerance.

Kenter's involvement with theater began at age ten when she attended the Ankara State Conservatory in 1938. Because of rumors that boys and girls slept in the same facilities, her parents initially did not allow Kenter to attend this school. With determination and hard work she was able to jump from grade nine to eleven. On 12 December 1948 her professional career as an actress began in Ankara, with her outstanding performance in the Shakespeare play Twelfth Night, which garnered favorable attention. She soon continued her work at Turkey's State Theater, where she worked for eleven years. She left in 1959 and, together with her brother Müșfik Kenter and husband Șükran Güngör, founded her own company, the Kent Players. During these years, she was also granted a Rockefeller scholarship and began doing research in the United States and United Kingdom on new acting techniques, methods, and the theater. She attended the American Theater Wing, the Neighborhood Playhouse, and the Actor's Studio. She has performed in Russia, England, Europe, and the United States.

Her repertoire includes over one hundred plays, from William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Bertolt Brecht, and Tennessee Williams, to Turkish playwrights. Her participation at the International Istanbul Festival over the years was recognized with the "State Actress" award, which she received in 1981. For her performance in various movies, Kenter is a three-time recipient of the "Golden Orange" award, which is given at the annual Antalya film festival. She has also received the Ilhan Iskender Award three times, for her outstanding theater performances.

Kenter is the head of the Drama Department at the University of Istanbul, vigorously teaching drama and acting classes to young students. The Lions Club awarded her the Melvin Jones prize in 1991; and she is a recipient of the Turkish Ulvi Uraz and Avni Dilligil awards for best performance. The World Women Association of Finland has honored Kenter for being one of the most successful women of the twentieth century.

Kenter was married twice. Her daughter Leyla is from her first marriage with Nihat Akcan. Her second marriage, to Șükran Güngör, lasted over thirty-five years.


For Yildiz Kenter theater always came first. She is known among students for her discipline and passion. "This comes from my love and respect for this profession," Kenter notes. "I am not that of an important person but what is important to me is to be a facilitator of my profession. Theater is a tool that I need to use well. I always believed in theater. This belief gave me strength. I believe in art and nature. I have respect for all belief systems but I believe in art and that is why I can say that my religion is art."


Kenter earned wide acclaim in Turkey with her performances and contributions to the art of theater. With her style, professionalism, and acting skills, she won the hearts of many Turkish and international audiences. She also appeared in many movies (Kizim Ayșe, 1974; Hanim, 1988; Büyük Adam Küçük Așk, 2001; and Sen Ne Dilersen, 2005), television programs (Saklambaç, 2005), and film series (Așk ve Gurur, 2002) and has earned much admiration for her continuous efforts to keep the art of theater alive in Turkey, despite shrinking theater attendance. The Beyoğlu district of Istanbul has always been home to some of the world's leading theater actresses, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Suzanne Despres, and Adelaide Ristori (1822–1906), who came to Istanbul in 1864 and gave thirty mesmerizing performances at the Naum Theater. Kenter not only performed there but also received the prestigious Adelaide Ristori award, which recognizes the most highly accomplished women in the performing arts.


Kenter remains one of the most famous state actresses in Turkish history, and perhaps the last. She has put all her efforts into keeping the theater scene at the center of public attention, but with the rise of cinema and private television networks, theater ensembles struggle to keep theater alive in Turkey. Kenter states, "Low cost Turkish television programs have deeply influenced Turkish audiences and are like opium for them. In this time of popular culture, not much attention is given to the arts. Next to these programs, television must dedicate itself to programs that deal with art. This harmony is, unfortunately, out of order." Although theaters fill with dedicated audiences only up to the ninth row, Kenter is eager—despite her initial thoughts to close the theater—to work in projects that support the performing arts.


Güven, Zeynep. "Benim Dinim Sanat." Hürriyet (13 December 1998). Available from

"Yildiz Kenter." Available from

"Yildiz Kenter ile 'Oscar ve Pembeli Meleği.'" Available from

                                                    Mine Eren