Gabriele Jakobi, Scena’s renowned director, died January 2 at age 69

The native of Germany is survived by her husband, Robert McNamara, founder and artistic director of Scena Theatre.

The Washington, DC, and Berlin, Germany, theater communities are saddened at the passing of theater director Gabriele Jakobi on January 2, 2023. She succumbed to respiratory distress and other complications resulting from a series of strokes she suffered in 2015. “Gabi,” as she was called, was an accomplished and respected director, playwright, and teacher whose impressive body of work spanned five decades. Gabriele Jakobi is recognized as one of the “Top 10 Directors” in Christine Haberlik’s book Regie Frauen (Directed by Women), which was published in 2010.

Gabriele was born in Nürnberg, Germany, and studied theater, literature, and German at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her internationally acclaimed work has been seen on the major European stages of Germany, Austria, and The Netherlands — and in the U.S. in New York City and Washington, DC. She worked as a successful theater director from 1979 to 2015 when she first fell ill.

Gabriele Jakobi (2015 photo courtesy of Scena Theatre)

Gabriele directed plays at leading theaters throughout Germany and Holland such as Schauspielhaus Cologne, Schiller Theatre Berlin, Schauspielhaus Hamburg, and Renaissance Theatre Berlin. At Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf she directed Antigone (Hölderlin), Krapp’s Last Tape (Beckett), and Maria Magdalena (Hebbel).

In the U.S., Gabriele directed Winterreise (Schubert) at the renowned La Mama Theatre in New York. For Washington, DC’s Scena Theatre, she directed The Jungle of the Cities (Brecht), Krapp’s Last Tape (Beckett), Mother Courage and her Children (Brecht), The Maids (Genet), The Blue Angel, adapted from the Marlene Dietrich film, and Report to an Academy (Kafka). She had adapted Kafka’s famous short story Report to an Academy for the stage featuring her husband, Robert McNamara, Scena Theatre’s founder. Report to an Academy has been performed in London, Prague, Finland, Africa, and Washington, DC. Gabriele also served as Scena Theatre’s dramaturg for a decade.

In 1987, she was invited to the Glasnost Theatre Festival in Moscow to stage Penthesilea (Kleist). This production was declared “Best Production of the Year” in all of Germany by major German theater magazine Theater Heute. In 1988, Penthesilea was nominated for “Best Theatre of the Year” at the Berliner Theatertreffen. Gabriele also won “Best Production” at the Monoplay Festival in Kiel, Germany, for Krapp’s Last Tape. In 2002, she was winner of “Best Direction” and “Best Production” for Krapp’s Last Tape at the International Theatre Festival in Wroclaw, Poland.

Prior to her strokes in 2015, Gabriele was working on several major projects for Scena Theatre including the musical The Comedian Harmonists, Jackie, and a much-anticipated production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Director Gabriele Jakobi (left) joins Playwright Anthony Minghella (center) and family on opening night of their play, ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate,’ in 1997 at Orensanz Synagogue in New York City. Photo courtesy of Scena Theatre.

A longtime resident of Berlin, Gabi would have turned age 70 this coming March 8. She is survived by her beloved husband and artistic partner, Robert McNamara, founder and artistic director of Scena Theatre in Washington, DC.

Gabriele will be buried on January 25, 2023, at 12:00 noon at the honored Dorotheenstadtischer Friedhof Cemetery in Berlin-Mitte, Chausseeallee 126 10115 Berlin. This is the final resting place of Bertolt Brecht (eminent playwright) and Gabi’s past colleagues Heiner Mueller (dramatist / poet / director) and Bernhard Minetti (noted actor). Additional memorial services in both Berlin and Washington, DC, will be announced.

About Scena Theatre
Scena brings the best international theater to Washington, DC, and stimulates cultural exchange between theater artists, locally and worldwide. Founded in 1987 under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert McNamara and Managing Director Amy Schmidt, Scena produces an annual season of plays, seasonally staged readings, as well as a Workshop Series aimed at developing new works from around the globe.


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