The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. –Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
One day in September of 2000, I walked out of my chrome and glass office at NHL headquarters across from Radio City Music Hall and headed south until I arrived at Madison Square Garden.
Barbra Streisand was appearing in concert and I didn’t have a ticket. Not only that, I kept wondering what would possess me to attend a spectacle like this by myself.
A helpful co-worker had clued me in on the corporate spillover line at The Garden, meaning you wait and see if any unused company seats wind up vacant and subsequently for sale. I couldn’t resist trying.
In my late 30s, I had only been an urbanite for two years, living in nearby Hoboken, N.J. with its easy commute into Manhattan. How could I work just blocks away from live Streisand and not try?
I thought about my mother and my sister, both of whom would have loved to see Streisand but didn’t have my luxury of proximity. Still, I credit my mother with my fandom. She loved the movie Funny Girl and played Streisand’s greatest hits enough that we knew the words and sang them often in our suburban house in central New Jersey. I can still see Mom, dust rag in hand, pausing to belt the Don’t Rain on My Parade showstopper with Barbra, “I march my baa-aand out …”
I got into the concert.
Later I regaled my little group in The Artist’s Way – a classic book/course by Julia Cameron being taught by a local in Hoboken – with that week’s spectacular “artist date.” Would I have even ventured to the concert by myself if it weren’t for this book?
The Artist’s Way changed my life as an artist and opened me to the idea of becoming a professional coach. Since that initial introduction to it in Hoboken, I’ve taken the course with Cameron in person in New York City and later interviewed her twice in my role as a journalist. I also teach the course.
All of this because back then I’d become detached from my writer self as I progressed in my career to editor, manager, producer in the New York arena. These ‘dates’ with self are designed to help us fill our creative well.
The high from that solo concert lasted a long time. What an exhilarating experience to see a master creative sharing her gift and then to walk into the lights and mayhem outside the Garden with my jubilant thoughts.
Fast forward one year to the fall of 2001. I was a producer at Oxygen Media, located in Chelsea Market, and like most people I know, still reeling from the terrorist attacks on September 11. I craved a special artist date to uplift and inspire. Maybe I wanted an excuse to emote?
I saw an ad in The New York Times – the movie Funny Girl was playing at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Streisand, larger than life, singing those songs I adore in a theatre whose legendary namesake, Florenz Ziegfeld, is part of the story.
Over time it has become clear to me that this story, based on the life of entertainer Fanny Brice, resonates with me because we share a fire in our belly. Brice, a singer and comic, keeps being told she doesn’t fit the showgirl stereotype of her time and yet she knows she’s got “it.” Why wouldn’t I latch on to that?
I leave the artist date at the Ziegfeld satiated.
Now take a leap in time over 20 years to present day. After a global pandemic and me temporarily hobbled awaiting two knee replacements, did I ever need a larger-than-life artist date coming into 2023.
As if served up on a life-saving platter, Lea Michele is now starring as Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway. I used to watch Glee, so I knew Michele had the singing chops. I also knew this would involve me taking a lot of Lyfts and cabs and I just decided to do it. I’ll be having surgery late winter and who knows how long her run will be.
Boy, did I splurge — orchestra level, second row. I don’t think I’ve had that great a seat since I saw Broadway legend Bernadette Peters play another feisty, accomplished woman, Annie Oakley, in Annie Get Your Gun in the 1990s.
I was blown away. Michele was in her element, not just in her powerfully clear voice. This was a performer in her zone, sharing her gift in a role she was meant to play. The audience egged her on, generous in our applause.
By intermission I found myself trying not to openly weep. I think it was mostly the show, but it was also a bunch of pent-up emotions from being Manhattan- and Broadway-deprived for so long. I came out of the August Wilson Theatre absolutely overjoyed. Not even a light rain could rain on my parade.
Later I saw an interview clip where Michele happily mentioned to Seth Meyers that early in her run Streisand sent her a letter of support delivered in a gold envelope. She relayed part of the message – “It’s really wonderful when your dreams come true, isn’t it?”
And bearing witness to it isn’t so shabby either.