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Multiple Points of View

Actress Helena D. Lewis performs Call Me Crazy, her one-woman tour de force animating the troubled characters whom she treats in her professional role as a social worker.

The many faces of Helena D. Lewis
“I get to merge the two disciplines, singing our praises to people in the profession and also educating people on what we do,” Helena D. Lewis says. “We’re the link between people who have been forgotten and services that can help them move forward. What people really don’t get, though, is the personal sacrifice that we endure to do this work.” Photography by Bill Bernstein

Helena D. Lewis didn’t plan on creating a show about the diverse personalities she’s encountered as a counselor. But in the high-stress world of social work, finding a way to vent can mean the difference between, well, needing your own social worker and maintaining your sanity and sense of humor. And when you have a gift for poetry and performing, then venting becomes art.

So it has been with Lewis NCAS’94.

Her one-woman show, Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker, introduces audiences to 25 characters, from troubled prostitutes, drug addicts, and violent pimps to burned-out counselors and a menopausal and moody supervisor. The show, which debuted in 2006, is making a return engagement in the spring at the prestigious Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.

For Lewis, the show is an inspired marriage of the two sides of her life: she’s an award-winning poet, playwright, and actress who also works as a certified alcohol, drug, and HIV/AIDS counselor.

“I get to merge the two disciplines, singing our praises to people in the profession and also educating people on what we do,” Lewis says. “We’re the link between people who have been forgotten and services that can help them move forward. What people really don’t get, though, is the personal sacrifice that we endure to do this work.”

In Call Me Crazy, some of the 25 characters speak just a few lines while others voice emotional monologues as they traverse a range of moods: defiance, anger, anxiety, fear, and sadness. The disparate collection is brought together by a social worker whose own breakdown and attempts at recovery frame the show.

                                                                                                                                              — Karyn D. Collins