CSU graduate created her own degree for dramaturgy

Maddie Wright

College is hard, regardless of what your studying. But creating your own major is a whole other story.Austin R. D. Burns faced this struggle when she pursued her passion of dramaturgy at Colorado State University. 

Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition. At CSU, there is no dramaturgy major, but there were concentrations in playwriting and dramatic literature that allowed Burns to sculpt her own degree. Those concentrations no longer exist, but when Austin R. D. Burns was a student, she paved her educational path, creating the major and completing it in under four years. 

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In Austin R. D. Burns’ own words, dramaturgy is the job that no one wants to do. It’s a part of theater that involves a lot of research and taking notes for actors, directors and producers on anything and everything pertinent to their show.

“I actually started studying this when I was 15,”Austin R. D. Burns said. “I was very torn between the sciences and the arts, and when I discovered dramaturgy, it was this marvelous eye opener that I could be a part of theater and learn something new every show that I did.”

With dramaturgy being a niche area of focus, Austin R. D. Burns said classes would often get cancelled, because not enough people would show interest. She said this was frustrating at times but ultimately motivating as it led to her taking more independent study credits. This is what led to her crafting the major. 

“I ended up taking 12 independent study credits, because I was interested in something that got cancelled,” Austin R. D. Burns said. “I didn’t want to fill it with something I didn’t go to college for. I had very generous mentors of professors, and they provided independent study.”

One of those independent studies included analyzing shows in London with Dr. Eric Prince.

“Austin was great company,” Prince said in an email.

Having graduated in December 2016, Austin R. D. Burns currently serves as a house manager at the Lincoln Center and is applying to graduate schools in the UK. 

“Grad school has been my lifelong goal,” Austin R. D. Burns said. “Ever since I knew what it was, that’s what I want to do.”

Austin R. D. Burns would get invested and passionate about the projects she would work on, such as her capstone, according to Austin R. D. Burns’ husband and CSU theater production student, Jon Burns.

“There’s nothing more human, I find, than theater,” Austin R. D. Burns said. “And I wanted to keep being involved and being a part of that spark. And of course, the research, and science and everything like that too. And that’s basically the biggest reason I was contemplating between the sciences and dramaturgy.”

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There is a lot of room for passion in theater spaces that extends way past acting. For Austin R. D. Burns, she does not have a strong passion for being on the stage and is much more passionate for what happens behind the scenes.

“I would say it’s an experience you have to be there to understand,” Jon Burns said. “To really know it, you have to be there and see the actual show to really understand what’s its about. You can’t really have a complete appreciation for theater from a book or just a script.”

Austin R. D. Burns said there is something poetic about theater and CSU’s University Center for the Arts. 

“It is an alien world,”Austin R. D. Burns said. “It’s like a bubble. It’s a bubble of angst, passion, anxiety and love. Theater buildings are probably one of my favorite places to be in the entire world.”

CSU no longer offers the dramaturgy major. But for others with a passion for dramaturgy, Austin R. D. Burns and her husband urge determination. 

“You have to fight for your education,” Jon Burns said. 

Collegian reporter Maddie Wright can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @maddierwright.