Lovisa Simson was the first woman theatre director in Sweden.
Lovisa Simson’s background is unknown. She was married to Johan Ludvig Simson, a court musician. They moved from Stockholm to Gothenburg in 1781 and had two children, Adolf Ludvig and Lovisa Charlotta. In the children’s birth entries, Lovisa Simson is noted as Lovisa Kleisnigh, while in her husband’s estate inventory and in her own death entry, her maiden name is given as Lindström. No documents seem to have been saved concerning Lovisa Simson that might further clarify her origins.
In Gothenburg, Johan Ludvig Simson worked both as a violinist in solo concerts at the City Hall and as a conductor at the theatre of that time, built in 1778—1779 at Sillgatan in Gothenburg. He was awarded privileges by the earlier Gemanesiska theatre company that worked at the Comedy House Theatre (Comediehuset). The company developed into a more ambitious theatre enterprise in Gothenburg, with both comedy and drama, after previously having been mostly a revue with acrobats, pantomime and tightrope artists. Performances during the 1780s were more and more acclaimed by the citizens of Gothenburg. They included Corneille, Voltaire, Molière, Hallman and Holberg. When the dynamic theatre director Johan von Blanc was for various reasons compelled to resign, Johan Ludvig Simson was awarded the privilege of leading the theatre.
The Simson family quickly became established at the theatre, as the godparents’ names witness at the children’s baptisms. They were members of the Hall, Alströmer and Holterman families and thus of the city’s top social set, who eagerly supported the theatre. Johan Ludvig Simson died unexpectedly in November 1787, only 34 years of age, and his widow Lovisa Simson took over the privilege. The children were small and her husband’s estate inventory from 1791 shows that he was in debt. Their assets were limited to an extensive collection of theatre properties, costumes, some musical instruments and other musical items.
Lovisa Simson handed over the artistic responsibility for the theatre activities to one of the actors, Andreas Widerberg. She herself acted as a kind of financial director with responsibility for the accounts, ticket sales and administration. According to newspaper advertisements, subscriptions could be purchased “From Mrs Simson living one flight up at chandler Carlsson’s near Lilla Bommen”. During her time as financial director, Lovisa Simson was weighed down by severe economic problems, despite the fact that the plays were very good performances initially. The productions included dramas, operas, comedies, masques and acrobats. However, the company had no economic buffer. All theatres had to pay fees to the poor box and the house of correction. Wages for the actors often came from benefit performances from which all or part of the proceeds went to a specific actor. Sometimes sums also had to be paid into the pension fund at the Royal Theatre (Kungliga Teatern) in Stockholm. Working conditions were not particularly organised. Actors often ended up in conflicts that had to be solved in courts of law. Lovisa Simson’s time as financial director was a period of decline for the theatre, despite Andreas Widerberg’s great ambitions and even the introduction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the first time in Sweden. However, Andreas Widerberg was called by the King to Stockholm in 1789, and parts of the ensemble left with him. The new artistic leader was the actor Johan Petersson, who soon resigned however, in 1791.
In 1791 an article in Götheborgs Tidningar concluded that at any theatre for which the management expected some kind of profit, order must prevail. Performances must start on time, actors and musicians must arrive on time, actors should not quarrel about roles in front of the curtain, and roles must be learnt properly if the actors do not wish to be booed or whistled at.
At the beginning of 1792, Lovisa Simson gave up. A small addition to an advertisement announced the following: “Since this spectacle is to be my last, and since I shall hereafter be leaving the theatre, I humbly request the audience for their benign and sympathetic generosity”. She seems however to have continued occupying the theatre premises, at least until 1793. The various theatre companies that then performed in the theatre often gave special benefit performances with the proceeds going to Lovisa Simson.
What happened to Lovisa Simson after that is unknown. According to the Garrison parish death records, she died in Gothenburg on 26 February 1808 of fever.