For Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, the secret to good storytelling is action.
"I don't like books with long descriptive passages," said the former Miami Herald columnist in a recent phone interview. "I like things to happen."
"Peter and the Starcatcher"Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com/
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 20
Tickets: $30, $38
That was the rule he and longtime friend and best-selling suspense and adventure novelist Ridley Pearson made when they began collaborating on "Peter and the Starcatchers," their 2004 prequel to J.M Barrie's "Peter Pan."
"Every chapter was built around action … on the assumption that a kid will keep reading if he thinks something is about to happen," Barry said of their collaboration, which served as the inspiration for writer Rick Elice's Tony Award-winning play with music "Peter and the Starcatcher," currently in previews at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
Pearson got the idea for a "Pan" prequel while reading Barrie's novel to his then-6-year-old daughter, who asked him how Peter met Captain Hook. Pearson was stumped. He later proposed he and Barry collaborate on an original tale, and a partnership was formed.
The duo envisioned a short book for young readers. What emerged was a 400-page novel, the first in a series of five.
After creating a detailed plot and deciding who would write the kids scenes (Barry) and who would write the pirate scenes (Pearson), they embarked upon the literary equivalent of a ping-pong game.
"The rule was you could change anything you wanted and you didn't have to explain the change," said Barry. "If the other guy was OK with it, that was that."
If not, he could change it again. They volleyed chapters back and forth until they were happy.
"It got easier as it went along," said Barry of their system, which served the co-writers for all five books.
Both writers thought "Peter and the Starcatchers" might make a good movie and were not especially surprised when Disney optioned the rights. But they never imagined someone might adapt it for the stage.
"We both had images of Mary Martin (who starred in the 1954 Broadway premiere of 'Peter Pan') suspended from strings," said Barry, who, like Pearson, greeted the suggestion with skepticism.
A workshop production of "Peter and the Starcatcher" convinced them otherwise.
"It became this magical, whimsical thing," he said.
A show dependent upon the audience's imagination, "Starcatcher" is indeed a magical show. Demanding of theatergoers what a novel demands of readers, "Peter and the Starcatcher" uses minimal costumes and props to artfully conjure sailing ships, a storm-tossed ocean and South Sea isles to tell the coming-of-age tale of the boy who never ages.
"This is our story," Barry said, "but it's Rick's vision. And it is amazing to us what he did."