Dick Archer, man behind Cornell stage productions, dies at 71


Associate professor of theater arts Dick Archer, who facilitated the creation of theater and dance productions at Cornell for 40 years and who was instrumental in the most critical design phases of the Schwartz Center, died Sept. 14 following a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Great Lakes Theater alumni, from left, Bert Goldstein, Dick Archer and Tom Hanks reminisce in 2018.

Richard John Archer was born June 8, 1948. He earned a dual degree in mathematics and economics from Boston College in 1970, and a master’s degree in theater technology in 1974 from the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1979.

“There are very few minds endowed with as much insight and richness as Dick’s was,” said Bruce Levitt, professor of performing and media arts. “He was shy and not self-promoting so many people didn’t realize the extent of his knowledge.”

As technical director of the Department of Performing and Media Arts over his entire Cornell career, Archer worked on more than 150 productions for the department, engineering and building sets.

“The theater was a life pursuit for Dick, not just a job,” said lighting designer Joey Moro ’12. “He came to Cornell in 1979 and has been building shows, solving problems and inspiring minds ever since. He shaped the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts building as it is today by completing a midconstruction redesign in order to fit within a suddenly dwindled budget and to save the project.”

Archer spent summers as a technical director for regional theater companies, including Indiana Repertory Theatre and Missouri Repertory Theatre, and for the Great Lakes Theater Festival from 1976 through 1988. His set for the 1988 Great Lakes production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” was purchased by theatrical producer Joe Papp and moved to The Public Theater in New York City.

“Dick was consistently rated as one of the nation’s top technical directors,” Levitt said. “The number of people who knew and respected Dick around the country was incredible. The people who he worked with and for make up a Who’s Who of the American Theatre from the 1970’s through the first decade of this century."

Archer began working in 1986 with longtime friend MJ Herson on creating and producing special events and experiences for companies, nonprofit clients and universities including Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Duke, Texas A&M and the University of Chicago. He also did outside consulting on children’s and science museums.

Archer’s professional production credits include the opening celebration at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1998; televised ice shows such as the HBO Skating Spectacular; commercials and feature films; Broadway shows and the New York Shakespeare Festival, among many others.

Survivors include his wife, Noreen; three children and two brothers. A memorial service is planned for Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. in the Schwartz Center’s Kiplinger Theatre. Donations can be made in Archer’s name to Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Ithaca.

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Abby Butler