Craft project: EMU Theatre debuts show based on the spine-tingling works of Lovecraft

Horrorshow V: Las Call of C’thulhu at the Old Arkham Saloon

What: Seven short plays based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft as performed by EMU Theatre.

When: Oct. 21-22, Oct. 28-29, Oct. 31; All performances at 8 p.m.

Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Cost: Tickets are $6 at the door.

If you know your horror, you know H.P. Lovecraft.

Even if you’ve never read a story by the horror master, elements of his work can be found in everything from old drive-in popcorn shows to the newest remake of “The Thing.”

In fact, the American author is considered by many to be as instrumental in the canon of horror as Edgar Allen Poe. Even if not everyone read “The Call of C’thulhu” in high school right along with Poe’s “The Raven.”

Lawrencians can get their own introduction to Lovecraft in the fifth installment of the EMU Theatre’s yearly Horrorshow, entitled, “Horrorshow V: Last Call of C’thulhu at the Old Arkham Saloon.” The show, which opens Oct. 21 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., will feature seven short plays adapted from Lovecraft tales, woven together through a common framework.

The result is “The Canterbury Tales” meets your worst nightmare, says Todd Schwartz, who first suggested a Lovecraft-themed show.

“I think they’ll be familiar because Lovecraft’s work sort of purveys the modern horror genre. While people may not be directly familiar with all of Lovecraft’s work, they will recognize the kinds of stories that he’s telling, be aware of the kinds of stories we’re telling — they’re staples.”

In fact, not even all the writers were familiar with Lovecraft from the get-go. Writer Dan Born, whose “Superfly,” tells of a genius scientist at the mercy of his own monster, had never read Lovecraft before doing his research.

“I was entirely new to him. I had heard of him before, but I never had read him before we did this,” says Born, who had written for two previous shows. “I got a book of Lovecraft stories and I just sort of picked through them and it was quite a challenge to pick a story because Lovecraft is a very wordy writer. It didn’t, in some cases, translate very well to theater and stage.”

EMU ran a several-week writers workshop to help the playwrights shape their concepts. One of the main difficulties many of the writers faced was how to take Lovecraft’s works — written mostly in the first person and with a very wordy structure — and rework them so that they would have all the action and dialogue necessary for the stage.

“That was one of the things that we talked about in the workshop was, ‘How do you turn a first-person, very wordy, adjective-heavy story into a dramatic piece?'” says Andy Stowers, who is tagged as a writer, director, producer and actor in Horrorshow V. “And most of the pieces do have some sort of narration or narrator involved in the play. But we’ve definitely tried to emphasize action — showing over telling, those sort of theatrical conventions.”

Schwartz’s wife and first-time playwright Roberta Freund Schwartz found the workshop incredibly useful even though she was already a huge Lovecraft fan and knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“One of the great things about EMU is that its focus has always been on locally written plays. So, I may be the first one premiering in this show, but we have a writer’s workshop as well and those people were very helpful at helping me concentrate on the action, the pacing, making sure that everything went off.”

The kinks taken care of, the 40-plus people involved with the production say the result is scary fun.

“Some of the shows are really quite scary and imaginative plays and others are really humorous,” Born says of the mix. “One of the advantages of going to a work that’s composed of short plays like this is if you don’t like one, just stick around and if you don’t like one, another will come around.”