THE DESK-PROJECT – This is What Women Wrote

Forgotten plays by female writers

 Since 2010 the DESK-project worked with finding, reading and presenting plays written by women from approximately 1870-1920. 

The work with DESK or ”Dette Skrev Kvinder” started in early spring 2010. With inspiration from similar projects in Sweden we wanted to turn the spotlight on norwegian female playwrights and their fantastic dramatic work written in the late 1800s. The Nordic classical theatre repertoire was lacking perspective and we only came about stories written by a few men. The influence from Ibsen is strong. His works has had such a great impact and has been produced so much, that there has not been left much space for others, not even other men, apart from Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson who also wrote ”in favour” of women – like Ibsen.

Cecilie Lundsholt, actor and producer and Lene Therese Teigen, director, dramaturg and theatre historian collaborated as artistic directors and managed during 3 years to bring attention to a lot of playwrights and plays.

We found a number of forgotten writers and a great number of female parts! These plays were written in a society very similar to our own, but was kept in the shade for political and social reasons. With DESK we wanted to spread information about the writers and their work.


Asta Graah

Our main aim was that these discoveries would lead towards several full stage productions. We also wanted to make numerous readings with professional actors for an open audience. Along with our artistic goals we also had some academic goals, namely to show that the plays deserved attention from academic sholars, and a place in the theatre educations. We wanted to encourage discussions and questions concerning what discourses are used when talking about the women, the period of time and the playwriting, and to encourage research that unite gender perspective with historical, dramaturgical and theater historical perspectives.

As part of the Ibsen Festival organized by the National Theatre in 2010 we hosted an evening with readings from 3 of the forgotten plays along with discussions on stage with academics and theatre people, swedish and norwegian. This was also a collaboration with The House of Dramatic Writing in Oslo. This led to a lot more people being aware of these plays, especially actors wanting to work with the texts.

In december we organized a reading of Hulda Garborgs ”The Spider” with 15 actors. This marked the start of a series of readings supported by ”Fritt Ord”, a private funding institution in Norway.

In 2011 DESK also became connected to the norwegian branch of the european COST-project ”Women Writers in History” (EU financed), we were invited to international seminars and Lene Therese Teigen also gave a speech on the subject at the University of Oslo with international guest all connected to ”Women in Wrting”.

We found 21 playwrights: Ovidia Aas, Elise Sophie Aubert, Asta Graah Bolander, Marie Borgen, Karen Marie Bætzmann, Hanna Butenschøn (Helene Dickmar), Marie Colban, Hulda Garborg, Dagny Juel, Laura Kieler, Thora Lund, Anna Munch, Alvhilde Prydz, Dorothea Reinhardt (Doris Rein), Barbara Ring, Mathilde Schjøtt (Bernard Jul), Amalie Skram, Magdalene Thoresen, Nanna Thrane, Elisabeth Schøyen og Emilie Zogbaum.

In spring 2011 DESK organized an international seminar on the subject of forgotten female playwrights in collaboration with the University of Oslo with both academic and artistic contributors. Eight actors was also involved, doing readings from four plays. We had guests from Iceland and Sweden and ten people gave lectures on the various parts on this subject.


The seminar resulted in a book with all the lectures collected and 2 volumes with collections of 7 plays. This marked an important part of DESK in 2012. Also because the book was launched in the National Theatre with big interest from the audience, and also from norwegian scholars. There was also drama readings at this launch – and by this time we made quite sophisticated readings with switches between the different plays, and beautiful arrangements with movements.

desk forside

We also made a drama reading at the book fair in Oslo in the autumn of 2012, for a big open audience at Christiania Theatre. In august 2012 we also had the opportunity to network with Swedish people conntected to the SPETS project and also the dutch people doing their project at the Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm in 2012.


There was one artistic director who had promised that she would take in one of the DESK plays for full production. Unfortunately she withdrew the promise, and we never saw a full production – not yet. In Sweden they managed to make almost ten productions and they even have some of the plays becoming part of the curriculum in the Swedish theatre academy. Here in Norway in 2015 I discovered that there had been held a course in drama by women in the late 1800, and they also gave a exam about Alvilde Prydz’ play Undine.


On the 11th of june 2013 we collaborated with the National Theatre and two universities in Oslo and did a big performance at the Parliament building to celebrate the 100th jubilee for womens vote in Norway – june 2013. There we did a performance with original political speeches from the time of the struggle to get vote for women.


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