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New York transplants have variety of experiences chasing their dreams

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Stacy Vogel
December 19, 2009
— Aly Bitter has known since she was a teenager that she wanted to be a Broadway star.

That doesn't mean she has stars in her eyes as she prepares to move from Janesville to New York City to launch her career. She has thought through every detail of her plan, and she knows it will take a lot of hard work and rejection.


"I've had plenty of time to think and figure everything out," she said. "I'm always writing myself notes."


On Jan. 1, Bitter, 24, will join the thousands of hopefuls, including several from Rock County, who flood New York chasing dreams of becoming actors, dancers, singers or models.


"I am nervous, but it's been something I've been sort of mentally preparing for for a long time," she said. "Now I finally feel like I'm in the right place, and I'm ready to go."


Tracy Douglas knows how Bitter feels. The Milton High School graduate went through the same thing 20 years ago after finishing her sophomore year of college.


She wanted to be an actress, and she decided to move to New York for the summer to try to make money modeling.


"I ended up staying there for the next seven years and didn't come back to Wisconsin until 20 years later," she said.


Douglas, 38, met her future husband in New York, and they spent the next two decades crisscrossing the country between New York and Los Angeles.


She found success in commercials, TV and film. One of her most noteworthy roles came as a character in the "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" TV series in 1998-99, but she also has done more than 100 commercials and voiceovers for everything from Target to Pepsi to Ford.


Douglas and her husband moved to Harmony Township this year because they wanted a better place to raise their 6-year-old son, Douglas said. Plus, she could sense her acting career winding down.


"There's a certain time when you have to go, 'OK, I'm older than a lot of people in this industry,'" she said. "As you get older, it gets harder to keep working as much as you did when you were young."


She still does some work in Chicago and Milwaukee, and she has no regrets, she said.


"It turned out so much better than I ever expected," she said. "It always astounded me that people were willing to pay me to (perform)."


James Kuerschner, 23, has had a somewhat different experience in New York.


He moved there after graduating from Craig High School in 2005 to attend New York University. He wanted to become a classically trained singer and entertainment lawyer, he wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette.


"As far as musical performance goes, I've had great experiences," he wrote. "I've sung for Marvin Hamlisch, performed alongside Broadway actors and am singing at Carnegie Hall this upcoming April.


"However, after two years on the music scene, I was sick of seeing extremely talented classical and musical theater artists struggle to have sustainable careers as somewhat untalented (to me) pop stars made millions of dollars."


The law side didn't work out as Kuerschner expected, either. He spent a year working for an intellectual property consulting firm and music publisher and hated seeing how the music industry treats musicians.


"When an opportunity presented itself to get out of the industry, I leapt," he wrote.


Kuerschner now is pursuing a career in luxury fashion. He works for designer Carolina Herrera and has been accepted to Harvard Business School. He hopes someday to become an executive either for a fashion label or major retailer.


Bitter knows anything is possible once she lands in the Big Apple. She's open to modeling, film, TV or other opportunities that come her way, she said.


"There are so many opportunities out there, you can't really limit yourself," she said.


She's already set up with an agent, a part-time job and an apartment she'll share with a friend.


Even though the move is a little scary, she's confident it will work out for the best.


"I feel like that's what I'm supposed to do," she said.


GOTHAM VETERANS OFFER ADVICE

Here's some advice for aspiring performers from Tracy Douglas and James Kuerschner, two Rock County natives who moved to New York with dreams of performing careers.


-- Douglas:


There are three main factors in a successful performing career, Douglas said: connections, luck and, more than anything else, persistence.


"If you believe that you can do it, you have to just keep plugging and plugging and plugging away," she said. "Rejection is just such a huge part of the game, so you have to know that you're going to be rejected."


Start with small projects, such as independent films and small theater companies, and be open to new opportunities.


If you find you're not enjoying life, try something else.


"If it starts to make you angry and bitter, stop," she said. "If you're just beating yourself up all the time because you're not working, you need to get out…


"Find something that brings you joy."


-- Kuerschner:


"I have so, so many friends who are just unbelievably talented and struggle to get shows and make a decent living," Kuerschner wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette. "Being successful here is so much more than just having talent. You have to work every day—networking with the right people, developing your craft, making yourself look presentable (image is very important).


"It's a tough, tough business, but if you've got the right package at the right time, it can be really fun."



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