JESSNER, LEOPOLD (1878–1945), German theatrical director and manager. Starting as an actor, Jessner was director at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg (1904–15). He later directed the Neues Schauspielhaus in his birthplace Koenigsberg (1915–19). From 1919 to 1930 he was director and manager (Intendant) of the Staatstheater Berlin. In this period he was the most influential theatrical director in the German-speaking world. His theatrical style, often called "expressionist," came to the fore in the plays of classical authors such as Schiller (Wilhelm Tell, Wallenstein) and Shakespeare (Richard III, Othello, Hamlet), and also modern writers such as Wedekind (Marquis von Keith). His aim was to develop the central ideas of each play with a point of view focused on actual political and social developments. His leading actor was Fritz *Kortner. As a Social Democrat and a professing Jew (he was an executive member of the *Central-Verein), he was a target of political and antisemitic attacks from the beginning of his work in Berlin. As a result he was forced to resign as early as 1930. Before settling in Los Angeles, he served as a guest director of Habimah in Ereẓ Israel (1936–37).
L. Jessner, Schriften (1979); M. Heilmann, Leopold Jessner –Intendant der Republik (2005).
[Jens Malte Fischer (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.