29 Jul 2021

Youth Bursary Recipients - Where are they now?

WHERE ARE THEY NOW | while we're currently taking applications for the 2021 Youth Bursaries we thought we would look back and see what some past recipients are up to now and how their bursary ultimately helped their career...

Applications for 2021 Youth Bursaries close on Friday, 6th August. For more information see Empire Youth Bursaries 2021.


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Craig Wilkinson’s first bursary sent him to the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) for an acting course in 2005 which he followed up in 2007 with another bursary to the Australian Film and Television Radio School in 2007. Craig is now the Creative Director of the award-winning video projects collective optikal bloc, which creates bespoke, visual-based live theatrical experiences. Recent live performance video design credits include shake & stir theatre co’s production of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the national tour of Green Day’s American Idiot and one of Australis most successful theatrical exports, Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs. Currently, Craig is working on the highly anticipated stage adaption of Trent Dalton’s highly acclaimed Australian novel, Boy Swallows Universe, which is presented by Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival and QPAC.

Sophie Volp


In 2019 young musical theatre hopeful Sophie was awarded an Empire Youth Bursary to attend Sound Thinking Australia (now Cuskelly College of Music) for Musical Theatre and Classical Acting Summer Course. The following year Sophie went on to star in the Empire Theatres production of Mamma Mia in the main role of Sophie Sheridan. Sophie is now undertaking her first year at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, studying a Diploma of Musical Theatre.

“I received an Empire Youth Bursary to go to the James Cuskelly Summer School Musical Theatre programme, where I learnt so much and got my moment of clarity, realising that this was definitely what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life”.

Ben Gillespie


Ben Gillespie received a bursary in 2007 that sent him to the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) for the first time. Ben starred in the Empire Theatres production of Singin’ In the Rain in 2009 before returning to WAAPA to complete his Bachelor of Musical Theatre. Since, Ben has travelled the world for three years as part of vocal trio The Aussie Boys and toured with professional productions including Singin’ In the Rain, Aladdin (Understudy for Aladdin) Opera Australia’s West Side Story (Pepe).

Courtney Wagner


Courtney Wagner is a USQ Creative Arts (Acting) graduate, working as an actor and arts facilitator. Courtney received two bursaries, the first in 2010 to the National Institute of Dramatic Arts Touring program in Acting Techniques and the second in 2013 to the Victorian College of the Arts Teenflix program, an intensive filmmaking workshop that introduces participants to a dynamic industry. Since then, Courtney has been in short films, commercials, TV series, Feature films and onstage productions. She also runs arts workshops around the state. Currently Courtney is enjoying her time on tour through North Queensland with RAVA Productions Charlotte’s Web in the roles of Fern and others!