Robyn Archer (born 1948) AO CdOAL is an Australian singer, writer, stage and director, artistic director, and public advocate of the arts, in Australia and internationally.
Archer was born Robyn Smith in Prospect, South Australia. She began singing at four years old and singing professionally from 12 years old, everything from folk and pop and graduating to blues, rock, jazz and cabaret. She graduated from Adelaide University and immediately took up a full-time singing career. Archer has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours English) and Diploma of Education from Adelaide University.
Archer is openly gay.
In 1974 she sang Annie I in the Australian premiere of Brecht/Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins to open The Space of the Adelaide Festival Centre. She subsequently played Jenny in Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera where she met English translator and editor John Willett. Since then her name has been linked particularly with the German cabaret songs of Weill, Eisler, and Paul Dessau, a repertoire which Willett guided her to. Her one-woman cabaret A Star is Torn (1979) covering various female singers including Billie Holiday and her 1981 show The Pack of Women both became successful books and recordings, the latter also being produced for television in 1986. She played A Star is Torn throughout Australia from 1979 to 1983, and for a year at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End. In 1989 she was commissioned to write a new opera, Mambo, for the Nexus Opera, London. Robyn has continued to sing a wide-ranging repertoire and in 2008/2009 gave a series of concerts including iprotest! ( with Paul Grabowsky) and separate German and French concerts with Michael Morley. All were sell-outs and critically acclaimed.
Stage successes include her own shows A Star is Torn and Tonight Lola Blau but she is also known as a world foremost exponent of German cabaret songs, notably songs by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and those from the era of the Weimar Republic.
Robyn has written and devised many works for the stage from The Conquest of Carmen Miranda to Songs From Sideshow Alley and Cafe Fledermaus ( directed by Barrie Kosky to open the Merlyn Theatre at the Malthouse in Melbourne). In 2008 her new play Architektin premiered in Adelaide and in 2009 she devised the Tough Nut Cabaret for a production in Pittsburgh USA.
Robyn Archer is also a director of arts festivals in Australia and overseas. Her career took this turn accidentally, with an invitation while she was performing her show Le Chat Noir in Canberra to direct The National Festival of Australian Theatre which was hosted by the national capital. She directed the 1993,4 and 5 editions and this began a remarkable string of Artistic Director positions at The Adelaide Festival of Arts( 1998 and 2000), the Melbourne International Arts Festival (2002-2004) . She created Ten Days on the Island, an international arts festival for Tasmania, spent two years as Artistic Director of the European Capital of Culture, and advised on the start-up of Luminato in Toronto. In 2007 she created The Light in Winter for federation Square in Melbourne and in July 2009 was appointed Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra 2013. She is in frequent demand as a speaker and public advocate of the arts all over the world, and her Wal Cherry and Manning Clark Memorial Lectures in 2008/2009 have increased that status. She a was commentator at the inaugural broadcast Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the ABC, Australia. She has been a television guest on The Michael Parkinson Show, Clive James at Home, Good News Week (ABC); Adelaide Festival 1998 (ABC National three-part series), the David Frost New Year Special, The Midday Show, Tonight Live, Review, Dateline, Denton, and Express.
Current positions held:
Creative Director, Centenary of Canberra,
Artistic Director, The Light in Winter ( Federation Square, Melbourne),
Member, European House of Culture,
Co-patron, The Institute of Postcolonial Studies ( Melbourne),
Patron, The Arts Law Centre of Australia,
Patron, The National Script Centre (Tasmania),
Patron, Brink Productions ( Adelaide),
Patron, The Australian Art Orchestra ( Melbourne),
Ambassador, the Adelaide Crows,
Ambassador, The International Women's Development Agency,
RMIT Global Sustainability Leader,
Former positions held:
Artistic Director, Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 (2004-2006),
Artistic Director, Melbourne International Arts Festival (2002-2004),
Advisor to the Artistic Program of 10 Days on the Island (Tasmania)(2001-2005),
Artistic Director, Adelaide Festival (1998 and 2000),
Artistic Advisor, Australia Day, Hannover EXPO 2000,
Artistic Director, National Festival of Australian Theatre (1993-95) in Canberra,
Chair, Community Cultural Development Board, Australia Council (1993-5),
Commonwealth Appointee to the Centenary of Federation Advisory Committee (1994),
Member of the Board of Directors, International Society of Performing Arts,
Member of Council, Victorian College of the Arts,
Inaugural Ambassador, Adelaide Festival Centre,
Trustee, The Don Dunstan Foundation,
Artistic Counsel, Belvoir Street Theatre (1986),
Patron, National Affiliation of Arts Educators,
Member of the Board, Helpmann Academy.,
Doctor of Letters (University of Sydney),
Doctor of the University (Flinders University),
Officer of the Order of Australia (Australia) - 2000,
Chevalier du l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France) - 2001,
Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium) - 2008,
The Sydney Critics' Circle Award (1980),
The Henry Lawson Award (1980),
ARIA Awards (Best Soundtrack - Pack of Women 1987; Best Children's Album - Mrs Bottle 1991),
Australian Creative Fellowship(1991-93),
International Citation of Merit ( International Society of Performing Arts)