Shayok Misha Chowdhury and Laura Grill Jaye have won the 2022 Relentless Musical Award for their new work, “How the White Girl Got Her Spots and Other 90s Trivia,” the American Playwriting Foundation announced on Thursday.
It is the first Relentless Award to go to a musical. Chowdhury and Jaye, known as the writing duo Grill and Chowder, will receive a $65,000 prize and have the option to hold staged readings at prominent theaters across the country, including a series at Theater Row in New York.
“How the White Girl Got Her Spots and Other 90s Trivia,” which centers on race and identity in a musical chock-full of ’90s touchstones like Tamagotchi cyberpets and Abercrombie & Fitch, tells the story of a young white girl whose suburban life is interrupted when she finds an unexpected scar on her shoulder in the form of a brown spot.
“At this moment in time when there are so many different approaches to dealing with issues of race, what they’re up to is so complex,” said David Bar Katz, the foundation’s artistic and executive director. “They come at it through humor and discovery.”
The Relentless Award was established in honor of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman after his death in 2014. This year, the award was limited to musical submissions to honor the songwriter Adam Schlesinger, who died in 2020 from complications of the coronavirus.
Applicants had the challenge of embodying both artists.
In previous years, when plays were evaluated for exemplifying Hoffman’s spirit, “it was more about if someone’s art seemed like they’d ripped their heart out and threw it down on the stage,” Katz said. Schlesinger, on the other hand, “loved creating well-constructed pop songs that were hummable that people would enjoy,” Katz said.
“Having to reconcile those things is almost an impossible task,” he added.
Going forward, there will be two awards: one for plays with a $45,000 prize and one for musicals with a $65,000 prize.
More than 500 entries were read by a panel of judges, including the playwrights Thomas Bradshaw and Lynn Nottage, and the musicians James Iha and Stephin Merritt.
The jury also awarded $3,000 prizes to three finalists: Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden, for “Hills on Fire”; David Gomez and John-Michael Lyles, for “Shoot for the Moon”; and Oliver Houser, for “XY.”