Stoicism is an ancient philosophical school of thought practiced thousands of years ago by powerful leaders and creators of that time, including Roman Emperor – Marcus Aurelius and Playwright – Seneca. Since then, these principles have developed and are informing some of the world’s best writers –J. K. Rowling, performers – Derren Brown and my favourite entrepreneur –Tim Ferris. What makes stoicism so attractive is its promise to aid and evolve self-knowledge and increase serenity and happiness. It offers an abundance of formulas that assist practitioners in gaining a deeper concept of their inner and outer world, such as recognising that it is not things that cause us trouble, but it is our perception of them (Holiday, 2015, p.3). A practical method that caught my attention was to, every so often, even if you have a lot, imagine you have little. Then, once you have little, question your level of happiness and why your inner peace is overtly connected to material objects. Then, following on from this, imagine you lived like Will Smith in “I Am Legend” (minus the danger). You are the only person left on earth, you could have anything you wanted, but because there is no one to “show off” to, the chances are, you will only select the essential items you need to survive.

In coming months I will attempt to bring this idea forward to build foundation for my next solo work. This work will focus on what happens when I remove the objects that have accompanied me in the performance space for the past 5 years. Then, I specifically ask what happens to the previously received (by audiences) “empowered woman” on stage when she has to face herself only. I will keep you posted on that, but for now, here are two examples of how stoicism can be practiced by performance artists.

Be Honest (inside)

Above all, it is necessary for a person to have a true self-estimate, for we commonly think we can do more than we really can.”

—Seneca, On Tranquility Of Mind, 5.2

This is particularly necessary for the solo artist who works on their own body. What is the state of your body? What is it physically capable of? Do you have a firm understanding of your technical ability and range of motion? Do you care for those attributes? What interests you about your body? What about your body causes you boredom? What are you willing to sacrifice to sharpen your bodily instrument? Ask yourself what it is you really want to say in your work and then examine with the answers you have given from the questions above; can your body say what you want it to say?” if not, change course, hire another body, or experiment more with the body you have. If this is an emotional work, are you ready to face the trauma head on? If not, do it anyway. There is nothing like a creative process to allow for deeper understanding of self.

Be Absolutely Prepared For Ridicule and Failure (inside and outside)

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

— Epictetus, Discourses

There was a timespan of about 7 years where I was absolutely terrified of failure, and in that time, I did not achieve a lot. However, since relieving that anxiety, I now “fail” on a daily basis and achieve tons of stuff. What I was suffering from, along with many other closet creatives, was not fear of failure, but fear of external viewpoints; “what if I am not good enough” or “what if they don’t like me” are key examples. Applying this to creative work; you will never please everyone who watches your work and you will never be good enough in everyone’s eyes, so understand that the opinion of others is out of your control. What is in your control, however, is the way you deal with criticism and negative comments. As long as you are fulfilling your true artistic intent with honesty and integrity, you can easily let the opinions of others’ sit outside your sphere of concern.

I hope this very brief introduction to stoicism has been thought provoking for you, I know it has for me. I am preparing for performance of “Unstable” this week, but I will be back next week with another blog.

Rowena x

P.S. I will be performing an extract of “Unstable”, a solo performance with a flying pole, on Saturday 5th at Secret Circus. Tickets are available here.

I will be back with more notes next week, but in the meantime, you can see my daily updates by following me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook


Holiday, R. and Hanselman, S. (2016) The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and The Art of Living. Profile Books: London