Carolyn was born and raised in New Zealand and began her writing career working for TVNZ as both a journalist and documentary film-maker. She also started writing drama, including an 18-part television adventure-comedy called THE RETRIEVERS for children, and a full-length stage play for adults, OBJECTION OVERRULED, which was performed by all the major theatre companies in New Zealand and nominated for a NZ literary award. Victoria University Press published it in 1985.
After moving to Australia she continued to write for children’s television and lectured in media studies at WAAPA. She also wrote SMASH HIT, an anti-drink-drive musical for secondary schools. In 1986 she was one of four writers selected nationwide to attend the Australian Film and Television School in Sydney. In 1987 she moved to Melbourne where she worked as a reporter for SBS World News.
In the early 90’s she joined ABC Children’s TV in Adelaide, while still writing for the stage. Her plays included THE RED KING (a play for teenagers based on the novel by Victor Kelleher) and BEYOND THE LABYRINTH (a musical adaptation of Gillian Rubenstein’s 1989 Australian Book of the Year). Both played in the Adelaide Festival Centre. Her stage adaption of the film musical HIGH SOCIETY, commissioned by the STCSA, toured Australia from 1993 to 1996 and had a 33-week UK tour in 1998.
Since returning to Melbourne in the early 2000’s with husband, theatre director Simon Phillips, she has worked mainly as a free-lance script consultant and dramaturg. However in 2015 she and Simon joined forces with New Zealand singer/songwriter Tim Finn to adapt Madeleine St John’s classic Australian novel, The Women in Black, for the stage. LADIES IN BLACK, produced by the Queensland Theatre Company, won the 2016 ‘Helpmann Award’ for best new Australian work and toured to Melbourne and Sydney.
During COVID, Phillips, Finn and Burns teamed up again, this time creating a new musical comedy, based on a short story by award-winning British writer, Kazuo Ishiguro. COME RAIN OR COME SHINE is due to open at the Melbourne Theatre Company in June 2022.