Priya Mahendra and Kevin Schuering Talk Diversity and Inclusion with THE LAST 5 YEARS

Priya Mahendra and Kevin Schuering (MY REAL MOTHER, ON THIS SIDE OF THE WORLD) recently held a private industry screening of their short film featuring five songs from Jason Robert Brown’s Drama Desk Award-winning musical, The Last 5 Years at Prime Produce in New York.

Priya Mahendra and Kevin Schuering. Photo by Lia Chang

The Last Five Years is an emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show’s unconventional structure consists of Cathy, the woman, telling her story backwards while Jamie, the man, tells his story chronologically; the two characters only meet once, at their wedding in the middle of the show.

Garth Kravits, Priya Mahendra and Kevin Schuering. Photo by Lia Chang

With Ms. Mahendra as Cathy and Mr. Schuering as Jamie, the pair chose the source material featuring two performers of color on screen as a collaborative effort to contribute towards the evolving conversation about representation, inclusion, and diversity.

Director Billy Bustamante, Priya Mahendra and Kevin Schuering. Photo by Lia Chang

Helmed by Billy Bustamante, The Last Five Years features cinematography and editing by Garth Kravits and music direction by  Steven Cuevas (violin, piano), Brandon Ilaw (guitar) and Jonathan Cuevas (cello).

Steven Cuevas, Director Billy Bustamante, Priya Mahendra, Kevin Schuering, Gath Kravits, Jonathan Cuevas and Brandon Ilaw. Photo by Lia Chang
Steven Cuevas, Director Billy Bustamante, Priya Mahendra, Kevin Schuering, Gath Kravits, Jonathan Cuevas and Brandon Ilaw. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How did you choose to collaborate?
Priya: I initially had this idea as I was examining roles and stories that I deeply connected to, but had not had the chance to explore yet. I knew I wanted to tell this story, and asked Kevin to collaborate with me and bring this idea to life. The project evolved as the team came together.

Priya Mahendra and Kevin Schuering. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Why did you choose The Last 5 Years?
Kevin: The Last 5 Years embodies the rollercoaster of life and runs the spectrum of human emotion and experience. What better way to explore those themes with a different lens and see what possibilities exist.
Priya: It’s a very unique story which delves so deeply into two people as individuals and as a couple, but at the same time is so universally relatable. It has a very special way of portraying what many people have gone through but are unable to voice. I am also fascinated with the different colors and shades of love.

Lia: What speaks to you about the project?
Kevin: You hear it all the time but representation matters. And maybe seeing two POC actors telling a version of this story, people will start to see that we are all a lot more alike. And start to see the common ground we all share.
Priya: The amount of passion and wholeheartedness that everyone on the team has for this project. And how collaborative and fulfilling this process has been every step of the way. You can really make magic when you have a team full of people who are possibility and intention driven.

Lia: What are you interested in doing with this going forward?
Kevin: I’m interested in releasing this in the world with the intention of inspiring people. The hopes are that people walk away from this wanting to create something of their own or start to explore what stories look like with unconventional lenses.
Priya: My goal as an artist is to contribute towards inclusive and diverse storytelling, especially in the way existing stories are told and portrayed. I believe that by bringing the lens of possibility and humanity to the forefront, theater has the power to create a space and place where everyone feels like they belong. My hope is that this project inspires people to seek to be seen, heard, and known for who they are.

Garth Kravits, Avelina Sanchez, Steven Cuevas and Anna Noble. Photo by Lia Chang

The Prime Produce Apprentice Cooperative operates 424 w 54 Street as a legally incorporated and wholeheartedly organized co-op supporting entrepreneurs, educators, and artists who share values of service and hospitality. Here, we work to design experiences, build companies and organizations, practice our crafts, cultivate relationships, and grow as people. Click here for more information.

Sitting: Daniel Johnson, Q Lim and Brian Kim. Standing Billy Bustamante, Garth Kravits, Viet Vo, Kevin Schuering, Jason Ma and Eric Elizaga. Photo by Lia Chang
Brian Kim, Daniel Johnson and Kevin Schuering. Photo by Lia Chang
Billy Bustamante and Peyton Royal. Photo by Lia Chang
Chad Coudriet, Joanne Javien Coudriet and a guest. Photo by Lia Chang
Christopher Cuevas, Christina Cuevas, Steven Cuevas, Andrei Strizek, Jonathan Cuevas. Photo by Lia Chang
Christopher Cuevas, Christina Cuevas, Steven Cuevas, Jonathan Cuevas Photo by Lia Chang
Steven Cuevas, Andrei Strizek. Photo by Lia Chang
Maria Briggs and Q Lim. Photo by Lia Chang
Jermaine Brown, Jr., Anna Noble and Ian Coulter Buford. Photo by Lia Chang
Joanne Javien Coudriet and Kevin Schuering.Photo by Lia Chang
Maria Briggs, Kevin Schuering, Chad Coudriet and Joanne Javien Coudriet. Photo by Lia Chang
Maria Briggs and Kevin Schuering. Photo by Lia Chang
Jason Ma, Q Lim and Daniel Johnson. Photo by Lia Chang
Garth Kravits, Steven Cuevas, Jonathan Cuevas and a guest. Photo by Lia Chang
Ian Coulter Buford, Maria Briggs, Kenny Tran, Kevin Schuering, Jermain Brown Jr., Jessica McGrew. Photo by Lia Chang
Jason Ma and Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits
Garth Kravits and Lia Chang. Photo by Kevin Schuering
Anna Noble, Lainie Sakakura, Avelina Sanchez and Jason Ma. Photo by Lia Chang
Lainie Sakakura, Avelina Sanchez and Lia Chang. Photo by Jason Ma
Billy Bustamante, Garth Kravits, Viet Vo, Jason Ma and Eric Elizaga. Photo by Lia Chang
Daniel Johnson, Viet Vo, Brian Kim and Eric Elizaga. Photo by Lia Chang
Peyton Royal, Chad Coudriet, Joanne Javien Coudriet, Viet Vo and Garth Kravits. Photo by Lia Chang
Jason Ma and Billy Bustamante. Photo by Lia Chang
Yuko Kudo, Kevin Schuering, Priya Mahendra and Garth Kravits. Photo by Lia Chang
Screening of THE LAST FIVE YEARS at Prime Produce in New York. Photo by Lia Chang
Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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