They called her “psycho Sarah.”
A fitting name, really. Sarah MacMillan drank too much, took drugs, went home with strange men, and acted just plain, well, psycho.
Those days are behind her, but MacMillan is a creature of the theater: she knows what a good story is.
So does playwright Toni Press-Coffman. It only made sense that the two met on a regular basis over a year and as MacMillan spilled her story, Press-Coffman shaped it into a play.
“Psycho Sarah” premieres at Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre Thursday, July 19. MacMillan plays the role she lived.
Revisiting her psycho days has not been difficult.
“I’ve worked a long time on these issues,” says MacMillan, who has been clean for 18 years. “I have enough distance now that I can tell these stories.”
MacMillan remembers when she first noticed something was off with her.
“At about age 7, this anxiety started with my not being able to tie my shoes,” she says. “It was very stressful and I was a perfectionist and got obsessive.”
Obsession and anxiety followed her into her teens. Her family was supportive and loving, but no one realized that mental illness had crept up on her.
“Up until 14, I lived with this anxiety. Then I found alcohol,” MacMillan, 43, says.
“As I got into my teenage years, there was trauma that would trigger the drinking so I could numb the anxiety. And it escalated to getting myself in places that were dangerous.”
After a suicide attempt, she went into treatment. It was there that she first began to tell her story of her life and her battles with anxiety and bipolar disorder.
But she didn’t tell it with the humor and drama contained in the tale.
“In recovery groups, I always felt as though I was holding back with my personality , the creative part of my personality. I sometimes censored myself.”
When she told her stories to friends in the theater, she would do it without the reservations.
“Theater is a really safe place for me,” she says. “I feel more secure than I do in real life.”
Her friends encouraged her to do a one-woman show; she was hesitant: She’s an actor, not a playwright. But she knew Press-Coffman’s work and decided she might just be the one to shape her struggles and victories into a play. And, importantly, she says, she knew Press-Coffman would have an outside perspective and that would keep the play from becoming a therapeutic exercise. As well, adds MacMillan, Press-Coffman found the humor, which was important to the actress.
Though this is basically a one-woman show, she shares the stage with puppets.
“We have puppets saying my inner thoughts; they represent anxiety, PTSD, lithium — aspects of my fears.”
The puppets, too, lighten up the play.
“There’s actually a lot of funny stuff in the play,” says MacMillan.
“And there’s hope about a solution to this (mental illness), and how to get to the other side of it. … I’m so excited about this. It’s cool and exciting and scary.”