Over the Top, Down under - on Target: Robyn Archer

By Henkin, Stephen | The World and I, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Over the Top, Down under - on Target: Robyn Archer


Henkin, Stephen, The World and I


Imagine yourself responsible for some five hundred festival performances playing to audiences totaling almost a million, while overseeing several hundred productions and administrative staff dealing with problems as diverse as creating indoor rain scenes in the theatrical production of Writing to Vermeer, or a desert Outback setting, complete with boulders and sand dunes, in the Aboriginal storytelling event Ochre and Dust. Then there is the continual troubleshooting behind the scenes, along with handling the constant demand for interviews by the world media, to say nothing of having to scour the world for class acts in the first place.

This was exactly the situation of Robyn Archer, who served as artistic director for the last two Adelaide Festivals. "I think every festival is a reflection of the director," says Archer, who cites her "ability to persist and to research thoroughly" as the key personal strengths she brings to her position. Indeed, seeing some two thousand performances around the world in preparation for the festival is testimony to such passion. (On May 30 of last year, a keen follower of the arts found her "in the cafe of Vienna's Sofiensale conducting simultaneous negotiations with a Dutch theater company and a Berlin dance company, then dancing the night away to a techno-funk band.")

"There is absolutely no training you can get to run such a festival, but I have never had any formal music training either. The sponsors of the festival have been extremely generous, but I had no idea whether I could do this or not," she says. A performer, writer, and director, Archer is well known both in Australia and internationally.

"Adelaide is a reformist place. There is a lot of religious freedom here--and women's rights came early in Adelaide," says Archer, who proudly notes that she is the first woman to direct the festival.

Archer blossomed artistically in this free environment. A public performer since the age of four, she has taken various excursions into debating, folk music, pop, jazz, rock, vaudeville, revue, nightclubs, and theater, drawing local attention in Adelaide, where she was educated. …

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