Expressions Presents: Yoga Play: Stretching Towards Mindful Consumerism

by | Jul 2, 2024 | Featured, Research and Innovation

By Catherine Nguyen, ’24 English

This article was originally published by the College of Humanities and the Arts in the spring 2024 edition of Expressions, a newsletter created by students in HA-187: Creative Team Practicum. The internship course gives students the opportunity to gain professional experience in writing, graphic design, photography, and video production.

During a yoga class, there is athleisure wear in colorful variations. Each outfit is different; not just look-wise, but also price-wise. The prices of each outfit are either suspiciously cheap or diabolically expensive. The materials also vary, from cheap fabrics to high-quality elastic. No matter the price or material, yoga participants are still buying a new athleisure outfit every other week. These people are the target audience for the luxury athleisure wear company Jojomon, whose employees push themselves to the limit to keep advertising yoga outfits—all for the sake of gaining profit and avoiding bankruptcy. 

Jojomon is fictional, though companies like it do exist. It is a company featured in San José State’s production of “Yoga Play” this spring. On the surface, the play may seem like a basic story on, well, yoga. However, underneath the layers of satirical comedy, “Yoga Play” provokes its audience to wonder: “Do I really need all the things I buy?” The play’s critique on consumerism only makes up a small portion of the themes it covers. From the ideas of authenticity to people being consumers of culture, the play encourages its audience to consider the facets of consumerism and its negative effects.

Sukanya Chakrabarti, associate professor of Theatre Arts in the Department of Film and Theatre, directed

Sukanya Chakrabarti, associate professor of Theatre Arts in the Department of Film and Theatre, directed “Yoga Play” at SJSU this spring. Photo by Josefina Valenzuela.

“Yoga Play”’s protagonist, Joan, is tasked with saving Jojomon from going under after its CEO suffers from a massive scandal. Joan is the epitome of the ideologies of capitalism and consumerism. To summarize Joan’s role within the play, lead student actor Lydia Hadley, ’25 Theatre Arts, explains, “She’s looking for any way she can get to keep customers loyal to the company and to get more consumers to buy their products. She very much follows the mindset of ‘How can we sell?’” Through Joan’s mindset, the audience can see the simple ways in which capitalism and consumerism work. Something as inherently simple as wanting to sell products suddenly accumulates over time, creating the neverending consumerist cycle we know today. “Yoga Play” director Sukanya Chakrabarti, associate professor of Theatre Arts in the Department of Film and Theatre, states that corporations prioritize their profits over everything else—not caring about the negative effects it will have on people, the environment, or society as a whole. Consumerism has rooted itself into our society, but that does not mean that there is nothing individuals can do to help prevent it from getting worse.

Need versus want

With how often things are advertised to us, it becomes difficult to avoid being a participant in consumerist habits.

Chakrabarti relates to this issue: “Some days, maybe I am thinking of buying a bag and then I am seeing insistent advertisements of bags. Maybe I resist one day and a second day, but I eventually give in. It has become more of a mind game of sorts with the current state of consumerism.” Accessibility and ease are some of the core fundamentals of why consumerism is so rampant in today’s society. Buying products is almost enforced on the public; no matter where you go there are advertisements being marketed for the latest trends. This ease makes it even harder to avoid unnecessary purchases.

As Hadley states, “Some products are so cheap that it makes it even harder to say no. You may not have money, but at least you have two dollars so you can at least buy this product.” Cheapness occasionally surpasses necessity in people’s minds, leading to the act of splurging on things they don’t really need.

Individuals cannot take all the blame for their spending habits. Using your card to buy has never been easier. Want to follow the latest trend in clothing? Simply insert your card number and now the outfit is at your house. Don’t want to be the only one in class with a plain yoga mat? Go to the nearest athleisure store and swipe your card. Everything is available to purchase at the tip of your fingers. As Chakrabarti explains, “Consumerism quite literally means the ability to consume. You consume mainly through buying. But that can also include consuming goods, products and culture.” 

Chakrabarti goes on to explain, “Capitalism has designed the world around itself. It takes the desperation of workers in developing countries to fuel it. That makes it an extremely hard cycle to break.” Workers in these countries need work, she elaborates, which capitalism and consumerism provide. This creates a never-ending loop where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, all for the sake of being able to buy products at your convenience.

How it’s made

“Yoga Play” was performed at the Hall Todd Theatre at SJSU in March 2024. Photo by Josephina Valenzuela.

Even if you try to shop ethically, it is difficult to tell which companies are abusing their power over employees and producing nonethical goods. In the play, Jojomon’s athleisure wear was exposed as being produced in Bangladesh sweatshops that operated with child workers. Both Chakrabarti and costume designer Courtney Flores acknowledge this issue, especially when it comes to students at SJSU. It is not unheard of that students are often the ones who are most attracted to fast fashion due to its affordability and trendiness. Fast fashion is the pinnacle of consumerism as it relies on mass production at a low cost at the expense of others. However, this is what allows these goods to be so cheap, making them more affordable for students of lower-income backgrounds. Flores states, “I can’t hold it against students. They are trying to live within their means and buy what they can afford. I am not expecting them to be able to afford expensive clothing if they are not able to afford it.”

However, acknowledging what companies you purchase from is one of the most important steps in avoiding consumerist habits. “Question products before you buy them,” Chakrabarti says. “Are they produced sustainably? What are the principles that the companies follow and stand by?” Students and consumers as a whole often do not question the products they buy due to their affordability. However, Chakrabarti pushes for students to be more aware of what companies they are supporting, “Just be aware of where your money is going. Is my money going to support a company that is really callous about manufacturing or is my money going to a place that produces sustainably?” By doing simple research on whether a company has been negatively impacting the environment due to its production or is using sweatshops as a means for faster output, you can help stop feeding into the consumerism cycle. 

While it may be difficult to avoid, Chakrabarti stresses the importance of being aware of what we are buying and what we are supporting, “Of course we need goods, I cannot be blind to the ways I participate in this consumerist culture. But what I am suggesting is to be more mindful of our practices.” Along with this, she encourages the use of a need-based model instead of a want-based model. Something as simple as questioning yourself at least once before making a purchase about whether you truly need this can make a huge difference in your buying habits. Much like the moral factors brought up in “Yoga Play” where the athleisure outfits of the company are produced in sweatshops, it brings up awareness as a key factor in helping prevent yourself from falling into the trap of consumerism. By researching companies or brands before purchasing from them, you can help prevent yourself from supporting companies whose methods of production are unethical. 

Flores kept the idea of sustainability in mind when producing the costumes for the play. SJSU’s Department of Film and Theatre has a costume storage that houses all of the outfits it has used throughout the years. From refitting old outfits for students to selling and donating old pieces that the department has no use for, the department actively tries its best to not feed into the consumerist cycle.

Flores explains, “We try to reuse as much as we can and try to reuse from the stock as much as possible. However, whenever we don’t have a certain size or style, we buy from outside sources.” Flores says the department tries its best to purchase sustainable clothes, making sure the sites or companies they buy from produce clothing that can last them years. Hadley states that the department often holds sales throughout the year for clothing pieces that they have no more use for. For pieces that fit only one person, such as Hadley’s shoes, students are occasionally allowed to take them home. The Department of Film and Theatre seeks to be as sustainable as it can when it comes to the materials it uses for its productions.

“Yoga Play” at its core is a play that provokes its audience to consider their actions related to consumerism. The play does not directly tell the audience what is considered bad or good. “The play doesn’t make a moral call on these issues,” Chakrabarti explains, “but rather provokes the audience to think about the issues instead.” As the audience is left pondering near the finale of the play, Raj, another major character, states during his final monologue to the audience: “Stop. Buying. Things. You don’t need yoga mats! You don’t need expensive pants! Every time you buy, you stop listening to YOU. And if you cannot hear you cannot feel. And if you cannot feel it is like you are going through life in a dream.”