The cast of 'June Moon,' rehearses for the Williamstown Theatre Festival's first show of the summer.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Jessica Stone is an accomplished actor and director, but there was nothing fake about the emotion in her voice on Friday morning as she talked about Nicholas Martin.
As the Williamstown Theatre Festival prepared to embark upon its 60th season, Stone talked about the legacy of longtime WTF director and former artistic director Nicholas Martin, who died this spring at 75.
Stone broke the jovial mood of a morning press event at the Williams Inn to share some heartfelt words about her friend.
"Nicky really was like a second father to me and to many of us," she said. "He had a lot of children.
"Williamstown is synonymous, to me, with Nicky. To speak to the family of Williamstown — what's beautiful about this place is it started as one family, and they're the original family, the Nikos [Psacharopoulos] family. It has grown over the years to include new members and continues to do so."
Stone, who directs "June Moon" to open the season on WTF's Main Stage on July 2, said she met Martin through her husband, actor Christopher Fitzgerald — who she met, appropriately enough, on stage in show directed by a new member of the Williamstown family, director Kathleen Marshall.
Marshall shared the dais with Stone and a half dozen actors on Friday to talk about "Living on Love," the play that makes its world premiere at WTF on July 16.
Marshall brings a boatload of credentials to her first effort at Williamstown. She is a three-time Tony winner for her work as a choreographer and director of musicals on Broadway.
Stone was a successful actress when Martin encouraged her to jump into the deep end as a director.
"He wanted me to be in ['A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum']," she said. "And I said, 'Ugh, the thing about 'Forum' is you should do X, Y and Z. You neutralize the sexism and on and on ...' And he said, 'Great. You do it.'
"And for someone to say, 'You've never directed anything before. Go direct a musical on the Main Stage at Williamstown,' is kind of unheard of.
"That was the thing about Nicky. He would get a hunch about someone. And there are hundreds of actors, designers, producers who are who they are because he had a hunch."
His hunch paid off in the case of Stone, who earned critical acclaim with her production of "Forum" in the summer of 2010 and returned two years later to direct "Last of the Red Hot Lovers."
She returns to revive a 1929 Broadway hit by Ring Lardner George S. Kaufman, with a cast that includes Fitzgerald, Nate Corddry and Holley Fain.
When "June Moon" takes its final bow on July 13, "Living on Love" will take over the Main Stage.
But first, it has to have a script — something that playwright Joe DiPietro is still developing along with Marshall and the rest of the creative team.
"We got 50 new pages yesterday," she said. "We're getting more new pages today."
Not that anyone is complaining.
"It's intense, but you're here and this is really all you're doing," Marshall said about the WTF experience.
In New York, she explained, artists are pulled in different directions at once — running off to auditions or voice-over jobs during lunch breaks from rehearsals. In Williamstown, the focus is always on the work.
"And it's so beautiful and bucolic," she said. "It's like the Fresh Air Fund for New York actors."
Although this is Marshall's first time at Williamstown as an artist, she is a long-time fan of the festival — going back to a summer trip to the Berkshires with her parents when she saw Richard Chamberlain star in and direct "The Shadow Box" in 1978.
"I've always had a romantic vision of working in Williamstown," she said.
And now she is part of that romance ... and that ever-growing family of which Martin was such a big part.
"The last time I saw him, I went out to [San Diego's] Old Globe to mount his 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,' because he was not well," Stone said. "And it was probably a week before he died. I was talking about one of the roles in this show, and I said, 'I'm torn between these two actresses — one I know well and one is a total rookie. She doesn't even have her [Actor's] Equity card.' And he says, 'Well, you know me. Always give the new kid a shot.'
"I did, and [Rachel Napoleon] is marvelous.
"That, to me, is the mark of a great man and a great artist and, to me, is the spirit of this place, where you have apprentices and non-Eqs and all this new energy coming in and people who want to be a part of what we do. He was just someone who welcomed them with open arms."