Jump! Theatre goes ‘Cuckoo’

Madison Clell, as many youngsters often do, developed an elaborate imaginary world as a child. The world was so spectacular it warranted documentation and at age 7, Clell, an aspiring novelista, began her first attempt at crafting “the epic novel.”

“Every year I started to write it, but thought it sucked. I’d wait and try it again the next year. I thought for sure by fifth grade I’d have it,” she says.

Fifth grade came and went, and Clell had yet to complete her grand opus. By the timeshe reached high school, she discovered comic books and decided to chronicle her fantasy world in graphic novel form instead.

Fast-forward to the tail end of college — a series of events led Clell to seek therapy and it was there that she discovered her make-believe world was actually rooted in reality; she was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.

“It struck me as a tremendous metaphor for my life. Once I knew that these fantasy characters were actually alters, I knew that I couldn’t go back and do this as a fantasy epic,” Clell says.

After eight years of intense therapy to integrate the alternate personalities that manifested due to severe childhood trauma, Clell took the necessary steps to see her story to fruition. In 2002, she released the graphic novel “Cuckoo,” a true-life chronicle of her struggle and recovery from dissociative identity disorder.

Beginning today at the Exit Theatre, Clell’s story takes to the stage as part of Jump! Theatre’s Springboard Showcase, which features original works “Jill: The Anatomy of Suicide,” “Peas Porridge” and a 30-minute installment of “Cuckoo.”

The idea for the stage version of the comic came about in 2006 when Nena St. Louis of Jump! Theatre contacted Clell after reading “Cuckoo” and expressed interest in turning the story into a theater production. Since then, Clell, with the help of Jump! Theatre, which aims to illuminate real-life experiences of mental illness, has been working on completing a full-length production.

For those weary of stepping into the world of dissociative identity disorder, Clell assures audiences that “Cuckoo” is indeed an entertaining and humorous ride.

While the San-Francisco-based artist admits that it was never her intent to go the autobiographical route, she says she simply couldn’t fathom coming out of recovery and not sharing her story.

“After eight years of therapy, I figured I had to do something. So much time and effort when into it, and then to just let it go to waste? It’s sort of like going to med school and finishing your residency and then not doing anything with it,” Clell says. “I have this experience, so I can either do something or do nothing and let it eat this hole in my stomach. My goal with ‘Cuckoo’ is really just to say that recovery from DID and severe trauma is possible.”

Jump! Theatre’s Springboard Showcase

When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday

Where: Exit Theatre, Stage Left, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco

Tickets: $10 to $20

Contact: (415) 262-0240, www.jumptheatre.org

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