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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robyn Archer
Birth nameRobyn Smith
Born1948 (age 72–73)
Prospect, South Australia
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, festival director

Robyn Archer, AO, CdOAL (born 1948) is an Australian singer, writer, stage director, artistic director, and public advocate of the arts, in Australia and internationally.


Archer was born Robyn Smith[1][2][3] in Prospect, South Australia. She began singing at the age of four years and singing professionally from the age of 12 years, 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 gay.[4]


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 for New Opera South Australia 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 and others from the Weimar Republic, 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.

Archer 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.

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 1989 she was commissioned to write a new opera, Mambo, for the Nexus Opera, London. In 2008 her play Architektin premiered in Adelaide and in 2009 she devised the Tough Nut Cabaret for a production in Pittsburgh, USA.

Festival director and public speaker

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, 1994 and 1995 editions and this began a 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 was a commentator at the inaugural broadcast Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the ABC, Australia.[5] 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.

On 1 April 2016 Robyn Archer AO was inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.


Solo albums

  • Take Your Partners For... The Ladies Choice (Larrikin Records, 1977) (also Plantlife Records, 1983)
  • The Wild Girl in the Heart (Larrikin Records, 1978)
  • Tonight: Lola Blau (Trafalgar Records, 1980)
  • A Star is Torn (Trafalgar Records, 1980)
  • Rough As Guts (Armada Records, 1981)
  • Robyn Archer Sings Brecht (with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Dominic Muldowney) (EMI, 1981 – reissued as Songs for Bad Times 1, Larrikin Records, 1999)
  • Robyn Archer Sings Brecht - Volume Two (with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Dominic Muldowney) (EMI, 1984 – reissued as Songs for Bad Times 2, Larrikin Records, 1999)
  • Mrs. Bottle's Absolutely Blurtingly Beautiful World-Beating Burp (ABC, 1990)
  • Ancient Wonders (Larrikin Records, 1993)
  • Keep Up Your Standards (with Paul Grabowsky) (Larrikin Records, 1997)


  • The Pack of Women (ABC, 1986)
  • Size 10 (song for film of the same name, Red Heart Pictures, 1978)[6]


Eating on the Plane (ABC for Kids film clip, 1990) (appeared on ABC for Kids: Video Hits from 1991) (Director: Tony Wellington; Producer: Vicki Watson)


Stage works as writer, composer or devisor

  • Live-Could-Possibly-Be-True-One-Day Adventures of Superwoman (1974)
  • Kold Komfort Kaffe (1978)
  • A Star Is Torn (1979)
  • Songs from Sideshow Alley (1980)
  • Captain Lazar and his Earthbound Circus (1980)
  • The Pack of Women (1981)
  • The Conquest of Carmen Miranda (1982)
  • Cut and Thrust (1983)
  • Il Magnifico (1984)
  • The 1985 Scandals (1985)
  • Akwanso, Fly South (1988)
  • Cafe Fledermaus (1990)
  • Mrs Bottle's Absolutely Blurtingly Beautiful World Beating Burp (1990)
  • Le Chat Noir (1991)
  • The Bridge (1992)
  • See Ya Next Century (1993)
  • Ningali (1994)
  • Sappho Sings the Blues (1997)
  • Boy Hamlet (2000)
  • Architektin (2008)

Other published works

  • The Robyn Archer Songbook (McPhee Gribble, 1980)
  • Mrs Bottle Burps (Nelson, 1983)
  • 'Introduction', Women's Role (The National Times, 1983)
  • A Star Is Torn (with Dianna Simmonds) (Virago, 1986)
  • The myth of the mainstream: politics and performing arts in Australia today (Platform paper no. 4) (Currency House, 2005)
  • Detritus: addressing culture & the arts (UWA Publishing, 2010)


Current positions held

  • Creative Director, Centenary of Canberra[7]
  • 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[8]
  • 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

Honours and awards


Arts awards


  1. ^ "AusStage". AusStage. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  2. ^ "Robyn Archer online : The depArcher lounge : Selected works". Robyn Archer. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  3. ^ "University Library | Adelaide University Footlights Club Papers 1930-2005". University of Adelaide. Retrieved 7 November 2012. Robyn Smith (now Archer)
  4. ^ Matthews, Jill Julius (1997). Sex in public: Australian sexual cultures. Allen & Unwin. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-86448-049-8.
  5. ^ "Robyn Archer online : The depArcher lounge : Bio/CV". Robyn Archer.
  6. ^ "Curator's notes Size 10 (1978) on ASO - Australia's audio and visual heritage online". Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  7. ^ Creative Director announced for Centenary Media Release, Jon Stanhope, Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
  8. ^ Arts Law: Patrons
  9. ^ Official website – Biography Archived 22 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Fellows: Robyn Archer". Australian Academy of the Humanities. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  11. ^ "Armfield off to SA". The Canberra Times. 55 (16, 555). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 23 January 1981. p. 9. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "TEN SCOOPS THE POOL". The Australian Women's Weekly. 48 (4). Australia. 25 June 1980. p. 19 (Your TV Magazine). Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "IN BRIEF CAPO nears $500,000". The Canberra Times. 65 (20, 272). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 12 October 1990. p. 5. Retrieved 15 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia.

External links

Preceded by
Barrie Kosky
Director of the Adelaide Festival of Arts
Succeeded by
Peter Sellars
This page was last edited on 30 January 2021, at 05:02
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