FROM THE YOUNG COMPANY AND BEYOND 

Introducing former Young Company member Jess Murdoch. Jess shares her inspiring story of passion and tenacity whilst paving her way into the arts industry. From University to Drama School auditions, why not grab a cuppa tea and come and be inspired by her journey of rejection, resilience and ultimate success. 

INTRO

Hello! My name is JessI was born in London but grew up in mighty, mighty Manchester. I always admired The Royal Exchange Theatre, partly because of its architectural beauty and the amazing shows they programmed (Wit & Wisdom and Pomona remain two of the best productions Ive ever seen) but also because of the incredible opportunities it offers to the community. 

YOUNG COMPANY AUDITIONS

When I first heard about the Young Company, I was so excited; training weekly in an amazing space with other equally passionate and dedicated young people appealed massively and was exactly what I felt like I needed. As anyone involved in the theatre industry will tell you, rejection is part of the job. One of my first encounters of this was actually through the RXYC: I first auditioned to be part of the ‘Young Performers’ group in 2014 and, unfortunately, was not offered a place. Naturally, I was hugely disappointed; however, this did not deter me from trying again.

Next year, in 2015, I auditioned again, and this time… I got in! This really cemented in me the idea that rejection does not mean ‘you are not good enough’ or ‘you should give up’ and helped me to begin to build a thick skin (something which is a great necessity for anyone pursuing a career in the Arts!).

The reality of being part of the Young Performers group (2015-2016) 100% lived up to my great expectations. Tuesday evenings became my favorite time of the week; I would leave every session feeling inspired, uplifted, and confident. One of the aspects I most loved about the Young Company was the variety of work we would do; one week you would be exploring the comedy and vulnerability that comes with mask work and the next you would be closely investigating language and interpretation through scene study.

I joined the Young Company when I was 18 years old; like many young people of that age interested in a career in acting, drama school was on my mind. So many amazing people I met through the RXYC went on to study at incredible institutions, such as RADA, Mountview, ALRA, Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD), and the National Youth Theatre (as part of the REP company). A few of them got in the first time they applied, but for the vast majority, it took at least a few attempts. 

One reason RXYC alumni have such a high success rate is because of the way the training provides you with such incredible insight and preparation for auditions. Also, everyone who is invited to join the Company already has such passion and love for drama; the RXYC nourishes, pushes, and expands this so that, when you leave the Company, you are a far more ambitious, flexible, and curious creative than you were one year earlier. 

 

WHY IS THE YOUNG COMPANY SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?

The sense of community and support found in the group was (and continues to be) unparalleled; I met some of my closest friends through the RXYC and even now, seven years after joining, I still receive audition opportunities and help from the wonderful people who taught and worked with me (shout out to the infinitely talented Matt Hassall and Matthew Xia).

As well as the wonderful training the company provided, members had the opportunity to audition for and take part in loads of incredible productions and projects. For instance, I worked on ‘Truth About Youth’ project, the R&D for the immersive piece ‘The Factory’, and the incredible, promenade production ‘We Were Told There Was Dancing’. I also had the privilege of attending amazing talks and workshops, not only related to performance but also in other areas, such as writing and directing. One of the highlights for me was attending a Pomona masterclass, where we were able to discuss the play with the insanely talented director and writer, Ned Bennett and Alistair McDowall.

Something else I massively admire about the Royal Exchange is their commitment to making theatre training accessible to all, regardless of their financial background. I myself struggled to find the funds to cover the cost of taking part in the RXYC and the theatre generously helped me out by offering me financial support from the ‘Arts Pot’. Also, when I was involved in the productions mentioned above, the company offered myself and others involved a stipend to go towards the costs of travel and lunch. The spirit of inclusivity fostered by the Young Company really succeeded in making every session and rehearsal feel hugely welcoming and accepting.

 

LIFE AFTER THE YOUNG COMPANY  

Life since the RXYC has been quite the rollercoaster! I started studying English at the University of Cambridge in 2016. To my supervisorsdespair, I was involved in over 42 productions, including: two international tour shows (across Asia and America); a professionally-directed Shakespeare at the Cambridge Arts Theatre; Footlights sketch shows and comedy across the UK, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; and I was selected as one of 14 graduating actors to perform in front of industry professionals as part of the Marlowe Showcase. Drama was quite honestly what kept me going throughout my three tough years of studies and my love of all things acting flourished as a result.

Much like the Royal Exchange, I have always massively valued the importance of accessibility. In order to help others access theatre training, I joined the board of three drama committees at university and committed myself to making theatre training as accessible as possible: through making numerous funding applications and reaching out to industry professionals, I enabled theatre companies to come in and provide free workshops for students; I also created Skillshare, a programme which encouraged students to share their skills with their peers through running workshops for one another.

 

LIFE AFTER UNIVERSITY 

It must be said that 2019 was a very strange year to graduate. COVID made breaking into the Arts industry almost impossible, but luckily I managed to continue honing my craft alongside working as a tutor (got to love that side hustle). I was also fortunate to land some professional acting jobs, such as the feature film The Chelsea Cowboy, and (my proudest achievement) a Kelloggs Crunchy Nut commercial. I also attended a weekly directors masterclass, led by the wonderful Robert Icke and Lyndsey Turner, and took part in part-time drama training with The Unseen School in London. 

As a member of the National Youth Theatre and Spotlight, I had access to auditions for professional projects, even without having an agent. In fact, when I did finally get an agent in 2021 I dropped them after a few months. I think with acting it is easy to fall into the trap of believing I need to go to drama school to succeedor I need an agent to succeedwhen, in fact, Ive come to learn that there really is no one set path: what works for one person may not for the next. Also, everyone moves at their own pace; I know people who landed huge TV roles as soon as they graduated, but I also know people who got into drama school after 8 years of auditioning. 

What I feel is most important is to not let the flame go out; make your own work, go to workshops, and reach out to other creatives. I made a short film last year with the help of some creative pals and it was genuinely more rewarding than any of the professional screenwork I have done so far. As long as you keep loving it, keep doing it! 

DRAMA SCHOOL AUDITIONS 

Take 1 

Alongside applying to university in 2015, I auditioned for LAMDA and RADA. Not only was I not accepted to any universities I really wanted to go to but I also didnt get past the first round for either drama school. Settling for an institution and course I wasnt invested in didnt seem like a wise choice, so I took a gap year and did some extra work on films, volunteered with ICS (International Citizen Service), and travelled with some wonderful friends. 

Take 2 

The following year, in 2016, I reapplied to university and re-auditioned for LAMDA and RADA. I received offers from all of the unis but still did not progress past the first rounds of the schools. After a lot of thought, I decided to take up the offer of studying at Cambridge as I did really love English and had heard that the drama scene there was amazing. Luckily, I had heard correctly! I grew massively as both a person and performer over the course of my degree and left with a wealth of experience, knowledge, and confidence. 

Take 3  

Upon completion of my degree, I decided that drama school was still very much something I wanted to try for. I had developed a love of directing while at Cambridge and so I wanted to explore that avenue a little more before focusing exclusively on acting again. The next year (2020) I decided that I would tackle the drama school circuit once again. I applied to LAMDA, RADA, and also Guildhall. I received a straight-up rejection from LAMDA and progressed to the second round for both RADA and Guildhall. It didnt go any further. 

Take 4 

Another year, another round of applications. I applied to the three schools above and also CSSD. Once again, LAMDA was not a fan. However, I got to the final rounds of RADA, Guildhall, and CSSD. Although I was waitlisted for CSSD, I ultimately did not get offered a place at any of the schools.

Take 5  

I told myself that this year would be the last year I applied to drama school. I applied to RADA, Guildhall and, for the first time and somewhat on a whim, Juilliard (New York). To my great surprise, I advanced through 5 stages of Juilliard auditions and landed a spot on in the final round, a 4-day callback weekend in New York. 

On day 1 of the weekend, the day before I was due to present my monologues and song for the final time to the Juilliard drama faculty, I received notification that I had not been offered a recall from Guildhall. Great timing, right? Although I was very upset and disappointed, I assured myself that I was in the Juilliard final for a reason and tried as much as possible to focus on the task at hand. The weekend involved various talks, presenting your monologues and song to the entire Drama faculty (we are talking 20 or so peopleit was mad), watching a play and discussing it as a group, and taking part in various classes, such as voice, improvisation, physical comedy, and movement.

After an insanely long and crazy weekend, I flew back to the UK. Two days later, I received the call: We are thrilled to invite you to join Group 55 at the Juilliard School.” I was stunned and, of course, absolutely over the moon. 

 

Key Takeaways 

One school rejecting you does not mean you are not good enough, nor does it mean you should give up. There is no shame in reapplying, just as there is no shame in saying I think Ive had enough of this, actuallyand trying another path, or something new altogether.

Pursuing a career in acting is insanely tough; it requires a huge amount of passion, dedication, and resilience. Even now Ive been accepted into drama school, I still face the challenges of raising funds to go, making it through the course, and entering the daunting industry on the other end. However, drama can also provide you with buckets of joy, inspiration, and purpose; this is why we do it!

 

Top Three Learnings  

The unparalleled happiness I get from drama massively outweighs the difficulties of pursuing the Arts 

There will never be a shortage of people who are passionate about theatre and want to explore it with you 

If you love it, keep at it!

 

Get Connected   

Instagram: @jessdoch

TikTok: @jessdoch

Twitter: @jessdoch