On the Subject of Socks: IBW’s New Musical is Breaking the Norm


Cate Latimer (she/her), Editor

On September 29th and 30th, Ida B. Wells students auditioned for the world premiere of On the Subject of Socks. Written by Matt Zrebski with music by Nico Vilches, the spring show isn’t a typical Ida B. Wells musical—the songs were written by a former IBW student and rehearsals are all year long. 


Traditionally, auditions occur a few months before a production opens. For On the Subject of Socks, the audition process begins nearly seven months before opening night. 


 “I think a lot of people are kind of weirded out by having auditions at the beginning of the year for something they’re doing at the end of the year,” said stage manager Sam Grommes. The show is expected to have a handful of rehearsals between now and the spring, time crucial for an important factor of any debut musical: workshopping. 


“The musical is still in its first draft,” said IBW senior Cass Beleele. “Once everybody’s cast, all of the vocalists’ songs will be adjusted in key and transposed to fit their voices, so Nico [Vilches] needs extra time to do that.” 


When originally writing the songs for the musical, 19-year-old Nico Vilches worked closely with writer and director, Matt Zrebski. “Part of that process included him indicating where the story needed a song and a rough idea of what the song needed to accomplish story-wise,” said Vilches. After completing the rough drafts of all the songs in the show, he began “fully fleshing out the songs,” perfecting the vocals and adding instrumentation. 


“I am largely influenced by genres such as jazz which often use rather complex rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary,” said Vilches. “Auditions happened now because, well, the music is really hard and we want the actors to have ample time to feel comfortable with it.”


While the rehearsal schedule is planned, some pieces of the show are still shrouded in mystery due to the fluid nature of a debut musical. “I have read the script,” said Beleele. “And the script has the lyrics to all of the songs, but we have no idea what any of the melodies sound like.” 


These uncertainties are natural with an emerging musical, and factors from music to stage directions are prone to shift during the process as they adapt written work to the stage. 


Much of what we see in rehearsals will help us with rewrites and tweaks to the script/score,” said Vilches.


While tweaks to the script can be made easily, making sure the actors can sing the music takes extra time. “What I can say, is that the rehearsals throughout the year will focus only on the music,” he said, “both to help the cast start to internalize it before the beginning of the regular rehearsal process, and to allow me to see what works and what doesn’t in my score and make changes from there.”


Having these additional rehearsals in the fall prevents the cast and crew from needing to focus entirely on the music in the spring and instead have time to figure out blocking, props, and set design. 


As the stage manager, Grommes acknowledges the challenges that may come with taking notes and running a constantly changing show but remains excited about the experience. “I think the end result will be better because then we can actually change things,” he said. 


With a new show on the horizon, IBW theater fans are surely in for a treat, with a talented group of young actors, directors, and an IBW alum bringing On the Subject of Socks to life for the first time this spring.