Robyn Archer AO, 59, has achieved what many attempt: a life less ordinary. By marching to the beat of her own drum, Archer’s distinguished resume reads singer, writer, artistic director and public advocate of the arts. She can now add ‘Program Curator, 2008 Alfred Deakin Lectures’ to that list. Not bad for a sickly child who wasn’t the brightest kid on the block.
Keep breathing, and the possibilities are endless.
As a child, I nearly died of asthma – a lot. And I’m an only child, so to my parents my life was extremely precious. They had no expectations of me except to stay alive. Keep breathing and whatever else you do is alright. That empowered me entirely.
I knew nothing about art.
I had always been in showbiz, but fed my need for intelligent education working as an English teacher. Then I took on a full-time singing job in the Australian premiere of Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins. I was 26, had two full-time jobs and two different names, but I moved in one fell swoop from being a nightclub/rock’n’roll/folk singer to understanding art. It altered the course of my life.
Commercial success is just not that stimulating.
But variety is. I had a solo show in the West End for a year, ‘A Star is Torn’. In theatrical terms, that’s a big deal. It’s the most commercially successful thing I’ve done, but the routine stifled my creativity for other projects. I started to get the performing monkey feeling. That was the cracking point for me, when I realised I need more out of life.
I’m an adrenaline junkie.
I like to dive into a high-risk situation, knowing very little about it, working it out. Once I’ve arrived at the best solution I can at the time, I move on to the next challenge. I make sure that I’m always in situations of fear, like going on stage. That makes you naturally overproduce adrenaline, to which I probably got addicted through years of primitive treatment for asthma.
Big dreams require two brains.
In running festivals, I’ve always insisted on being the artistic director and having a general manager. I don’t deal with the purse. I really believe in that model. As artistic director or even program curator, you have to dream big. And then you have somebody else watching the bottom line. It’s the intersection of those two paths that gives the best product.
The arts can learn a lot from science.
There are many parallels with being an artistic director and being program curator of the Deakin Lectures. It’s like putting together a variety show and telling a broad narrative, rather than just scheduling a series of individual lectures. In planning the Deakin Lectures, I now realise what amazing thinking is out there. I’d like the arts to be more like that. Unfortunately, the arts are more often regarded as a leisure activity.
The next generation is always smarter.
The under-30s haven’t been the natural audience for the Deakin Lectures, so I’ve invited a young person to each lecture to provide their perspective. I was at the 2020 Summit in Canberra and the youth delegates were so smart. The rest of us try to keep up with the digital natives, but their whole thought structure is different. The next generation is always faster and smarter, so it’s vital they be involved.
The 2008 Alfred Deakin Lectures take a journey from ‘DNA to Deep Space’, covering topics from the brain to body, through cities, nations and on into space. The series of free lectures runs 4 – 15 June in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
See www.deakinlectures.net for more information.