The Theater is Her Home: Gülriz Sururi

The Theater is Her Home: Gülriz Sururi

Gülriz Sururi, who began her career in the Turkish theater in the City Theaters of İstanbul’s Children’s Section at a young age, had continued working in this meaningful profession for long years.

She is still determined to work as a director, although she ended her acting career. She decided to present an encouragement award to support young people in this business as a regular follower of young theaters. The Gülriz Sururi-Engin Cezzar Encouragement Award is a financial award that supports young theaters in co-operation with the İKSV. Let’s explore the world of Gülriz Sururi which is full of arts!

Could you please tell us about the meaningful Gülriz Sururi-Engin Cezzar encouragement award given to young theaters in co-operation with the İKSV?

It is an encouragement award with continuity, it will continue to be presented every year. This was something we talked about a lot with Engin Cezzar. We were saying that now we are old, we should have something to leave behind and it should definitely have something to do with the theater. We value education; we have another beautiful project to be realized later. We were not able to decide on what to do for the theater. Last year, I watched a play of a successful young theater company; however, they did not have their own stage. Their acting was really great. Then I realized that we could have presented an encouragement award to the most successful young theater company of the year, selected by a jury. I decided to do a co-operation with the İKSV, which is the right address for this type of project. We are realizing this project that will enable the discovery of young theater groups with the partnership of the İKSV.

Which play you were impressed with the most?

It was a play performed by Alt Kat Tiyatrosu; Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. The play is really successful and it is still on. We had experienced very hard times in the past; there was the military coup; then came the curfew; our play was banned. We used to think about how we would be able to put our play on stage then; we did not even have a sponsor. When I recalled those times, I decided this was the best award to give these young groups.

Do you regularly go to see the plays performed by young theater companies?

Yes, for years… Many moments caught me by surprise in those years. For instance, I watched a performance of a young man once and then I saw him on TV starring in a drama series. Later, I learned that he was a conservatoire graduate and very successful at acting both for TV and theater. There are a few significant people who perform well both on stage and TV; this makes me very glad to witness. I really appreciate to see them earning from TV and investing it in the theater. A career in drama requires passion. It is the most significant among the arts because it is performed face to face with audiences. No other profession is like this, not even ballet or opera. Today, young people come together to open new theater companies and make theater. This is very hopeful. It also means it can be done when it is wanted to… People appreciate and reward this.

You have been through many things over the years in this career. What are the differences between repertories now and then, meaning when you first started working in this profession, for instance, in terms of script selection?

The age is changing, renewing, giving up repeating itself, as it is with everything. There are Turkish and world classics but I can see the age is changing. The play of the old were more theatrical. Now, a modern acting is dominating the theater. I can see that.  Directors take many different leaps, trying different methods. I like some of these attempts, but there are also people who do things like a handstand to make it interesting, the handstand is not related with the play, it doesn’t have a purpose; I don’t like this style of plays. I mean, there are still people who want to exaggerate. I think it’s because they don’t trust themselves, they don’t know what they’re doing. However, the theater does not need any of these; as many famous directors say, “light, human, text, that is enough.”

Do you teach?

I did for a while. By chance, I started the theater department of Marmara University. They asked me to give an acting lesson, and when I went there, they had nothing. Marmara University is a university with many branches such as art, theater, painting, architecture, and fashion. I also made a mixed selection to choose a theater instructor. It grabbed great attention. I chose a group of twenty people. I put on plays with them, it was very nice. Then, I left the university to stage Fosforlu Cevriye at the State Theater in Ankara. The play had been performed in Ankara for five years. I quit teaching at that time. One aim of mine is to re-stage Fosforlu Cevriye.

I had read an article about Keşanlı Ali Destanı. Your plays at that time were innovative. You had done what had not been done before, right? Can you tell us about it?

We were so lucky, we had the chance to perform the books by great artists such as Haldun Taner, Yaşar Kemal, Güngör Dilmen and many more. Therefore we broke a record at performing Turkish plays. This record could not be broken for long years by no private theater company.

Did you used to do the productions?

Yes, we did. We always gave back what we have taken from our audiences by presenting greater plays. Theaters were alive then, Kenter Tiyatrosu, Dormen Tiyatrosu, Dostlar Tiyatrosu… Sponsorship was invented around 1985. Doing the production by ourselves was great. The population of İstanbul was so small but the rate of literacy was very high. When Engin Cezzar put Macbeth on stage, the population of İstanbul was two million and there were two hundred thousand theater viewers. When we approached the 1980s, the population was very high but the number of theater viewers were not over two hundred thousand.

Do you want to act again?

No, I don’t. I ended my acting career at the right time and I think that is why I am still here today. I did it 18 years ago when I was a mature and well equipped drama player. Although I still had many things to achieve, I thought there are young theater players who need to take over and I need to make space to give them a chance. I am so happy in doing this because I couldn’t endure being the one who was left. I continue writing and directing on the other hand.

Masters are in need. Will you direct a play?

Yes, when we first started our careers, master actors were so valuable but I was thinking that after a certain point a new leap must have been taken and I was getting angry at them because they were not making it. This is inevitable between every generation, even now. This is why they call me a modern woman I guess: I love spending time with young people, I love watching them act. I want to work as a director.

Who was someone you called as your master or mentor?

When I was selected by Muhsin Ertuğrul for conservatoire, Cahide Sonku was in the city theater. Conservatoire students had to watch two rehearsals in a week and I fell in love with Cahide Sonku during those rehearsals, she was my idol. I must had been so lucky that my father took me to Ankara for a tour and I performed a few roles. There was a critic named Rüftü Ay then… May god bless his soul… He wrote a review on me: “Very talented girl but I wish she was not under the influence of Cahide Sonku…” This was a really positive review to me because then I decided to put myself together and find my own style of acting.