Home' In The City : In The City - Summer 10 Contents 55
Monday August 30, 2010
Accomplished as she is now,
Robyn Archer envisions her
future much the same way that
she did throughout her youth.
"No plans. Absolutely no plans."
That's just the way with Ms Archer -- the
more you try to press her for stories of
dramatic rises to international fame as a
singer, writer, creative director and general
advocate for the arts, the less she seems
willing to own her success.
"It really has been almost exclusively a
series of rather generous men who have
said, 'Have you ever thought about doing
this?' And I accept and learn on the job,
and it's been absolutely fantastic," she
"Having no qualifications for anything,
anything anyone ever suggests that I might
like to try, is usually accompanied with a
searing kind of fear for a moment when I
don't know how to do it, and then I jump in
and learn on the job."
An only-child born and raised in
Adelaide, Ms Archer's early days were
spent battling with a case of asthma so
serious, it confined her to bed every winter
Dismissing any notion that the life-
threatening illness was a hindrance to
accomplishment, Ms Archer explained;
"Because I knew that I was going to get
really sick every winter, I would always try
and be ahead so that in those periods
when I would be in bed five or six weeks
every winter missing school, I wouldn't fall
behind. Around age 13 when the asthma
started to clear up; I had never really gotten
out of the habit of being ahead."
In the arts, Ms Archer is like a one-
woman vaudeville, having performed
in every genre imaginable to audiences
worldwide. Her resume resembles that of
three lifetimes combined, and her day-to-
day schedule is without pause.
"There isn't a lot of 'work-life balance'.
it. Leisure is taken very spontaneously as
is needed. I wouldn't consider myself a
workaholic at all... I know when my brain
has had enough and I'm not doing efficient
work... I don't need a long time to wind
down or wind up again -- it's just flicked on
and off very easily," she says.
"Same with sleeping, I can get 20
minutes just about anywhere -- like on a
plane... If I ever do set an alarm, I tend
to wake up exactly one minute before
it goes off and turn it off. So there's
something very programmatic about the
way I use time."
To some it may seem insanely
haphazard, but there is definitely a logic
to the madness, and there's no better
example than Ms Archer's propensity to
make lists and 'progress tracking sheets'
on her various live endeavours that she
updates almost fanatically.
"There was a pad that I fell in love
with when I was living in London, by the
stationer Ryman, and it was called 'Things
To Do' and it's just a list of 20 things and it's
got a box that you can tick and a box for
urgent," she says.
"Usually when the list runs to two pages
and I have more than 20 things that I've
got to get done, that's when it gets a bit
"It's just a very old fashioned, retro way
of having an organiser."
Ms Archer is seemingly in possession of
an inexhaustible store of creative juices, the
seed of which, she suggests, was planted
in early childhood.
"My dad was a singer and a compère
and a comedian and I kind of apprenticed
myself to him," Ms Archer said. Claiming
her father's habit of polishing his acts on
her mother and her has left her with a
"terrible legacy about comedy", she added;
"The idea of paying for anyone to tell jokes
to me strikes me as vaguely obscene."
Having taken on the mammoth task
of directing the Canberra Centenary
celebrations, Ms Archer is showing no
signs of slowing down.
"The Centenary of Canberra is a project
of incredible depth. You couldn't have
a more exciting program, especially if
you think of Canberra as a unique city --
certainly in Australia and possibly in the
world -- where you've got local, regional,
national and international all rubbing side
by side," she says.
"...it's about celebrating the present --
the citizens who are in Canberra at the
moment -- but it's also got a hundred years
of history and it's probably got a hundred
years of future, so it really is that kind of 'big
brain' project I relish. It's got lots of variety
Where the energy for such projects
comes from is a mystery -- even to herself.
"I suspect it has something to do with
the illness. The expectation of losing weeks
in the year being ill -- I think gives you an
appetite for life and to use every moment
The role of artistic director for the Canberra Centenary
celebrations is nothing short of gargantuan -- and it's all in a
day's work for Robyn Archer. BY DIONE VAN-HEER
Photographer: Rohan Thomson
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