Adult Conservatory—Spotlight on Playwriting

Brian Robin
 | Dec 21, 2021
Diana Burbano

The beauty of the way Diana Burbano teaches her playwriting class at SCR’s Adult Conservatory—offered online Wednesdays this winter from 6-9 p.m.—is she doesn’t teach you how to write a play. And as counterintuitive as that sounds, it makes sense when you hear Burbano explain why.

“I can’t actually teach you how to write a play. I can give you the framework. I can give you the format,” she said. “But there is no right way or wrong way to write a play. What I can give you is room to experiment. I can give you room to work on the story and room to allow the story to unfold.

“… When students begin to trust me, I’ll ask questions of them. What do you want the audience to come away with? What do you want the play to say? I’ll lead them through questions about where they’re going with a particular scene. If your goal is to have an audience questioning this part of society, does this scene fulfill your goal? Has it moved the story forward? I let them figure it out. I’ll never tell them what to do. My job is to let them figure it out and see their scripts for what they can be.”

A published playwright; her play Ghosts of Bogotá won the Nu Voices Festival at the Actors Theatre of Charlotte and debuted at the Alter Theater in Northern California in February 2020, and Equity actor, Burbano brings deep knowledge born of experience with all elements of the playwriting craft. That stretches from developing story ideas to creating believable, relatable characters, to the business behind the craft. She creates a learning environment featuring abundant sharing of work along with lessons in how to critique that work.

Burbano herself solicits individual feedback on how much critique a student wants. She wants beginner writers to feel like their work can be constructively critiqued. Others, who may come in with more writing experience, often open themselves up to deeper criticism. And Burbano is wide open to both extremes—and everything in between.

“We read them out loud and I train every class in listening and critiquing,” she said. “The goal is to critique the work without making the writer rewrite it. ‘Pops’ mean you’re excited and ‘bumps’ mean you weren’t quite sure about it. … I want people to feel comfortable. I want this to be a space where you can experiment and feel comfortable doing that.”

Burbano’s class also draws in everyone from beginners to experienced writers. Everyone comes out of it understanding the "hows" in putting words and ideas on paper and the "whys" that make it successful.

“As a teacher, she is a great guide and course-corrector, drawing on her experience to recognize what we’ve done right and to make it better,” said one of her students, award-winning Southern California News Group Sports Columnist Mark Whicker. “She also recognizes the individual voices we all have, and nurtures them, and she’s open to any style or subject matter. It’s no surprise that many of her students are repeaters from previous sessions. She gives us confidence, which may be the best gift of all.”

Playwriting begins Jan. 26 and runs through March 16.

Learn more.