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One-Woman Play of Charts Highs and Lows of Social Work Field

Helena D. Lewis remembered the time one of her friends in the corporate world complained about the type of cups at the office water cooler.

Lewis, who is a certified alcohol, drug and HIV/AIDS counselor in gritty Newark, NJ, just sighed.

“We just had somebody jump through the window and the riot squad came through the door,” Lewis told her friend. “You think you have problems with this water cooler? Let me tell you about my job.”

Lewis, who is also a poet, playwright and actress, is now telling others about the inspiring and insane things people in the social work field handle every day. She is doing it through her one-woman stage play, “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker.”

In the play Lewis portrays 25 different characters based on people she encounters on her job at a Newark nonprofit. One of her favorite characters is “Mr. Barnes,” who is modeled after a man in his eighties who uses her organization’s food pantry to supplement his meager income.

Despite his age and poor circumstances, Mr. Barnes is Lewis’ hero. He rescued Lewis after she locked herself in an office when a man high on drugs came into the building. Mr. Barnes chased the man away.

“You don’t need to be in this building by yourself,” Mr. Barnes said. “People are crazy.”

“Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker” has already played at New York City’s Schomburg Center. And it is the “Festival Pick” at the D.C. Black Theater Festival Aug. 1-8 in Washington, D.C.

Helena D. Lewis. Photo by Sandra Guzman.

Lewis is not a social worker but she works with them every day. One of her supervisors is a licensed clinical social worker who encouraged her to get her counseling licenses. And Lewis said she plans to finish a master’s degree in social work.

Lewis, who was born in Newark but lives in Orange, NJ, originally went to college to get a biology degree. But during her junior year at Rutgers University she was asked to appear in a student documentary on safe sex. That led to her being hired as a sexual health advocate who developed educational programs for the college.

Lewis decided to pursue a counseling career because she wanted to find ways to help one brother who was addicted to drugs and another brother with HIV. She was always a writer and kept a journal for years. But Lewis got more into writing poems and appearing in live performance poetry readings to ease her grief after one of her brothers passed away in 1998.

Her poetry readings led to an appearance on HBO’s acclaimed “Def Poetry Jam” and an invitation to write a play.

Lewis said it is an honor to be able to use her writing to share with the world what social workers and others in the social work profession do. She said a professor at a nearby social work school even brought his students to one of her performances to help them gain a better understanding of the profession.

Playbill cover of "Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker."

“These are all the crazy stories that social workers probably sit around with their peers and tell but now I’m telling the whole world,” she said. “I don’t think (social service providers) get recognized for what we do. We get paid the least amount to deal with the most important commodity in the world — human life.”

“Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker” is playing at the D.C. Black Theater Festival on Sunday, August 8 at 3 p.m. For more information click here.
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24 Comments

  1. this is fantastic. would love to see the play. i love seeing all the creative things social workers do to keep from going crazy.

  2. Everyone needs to see this awesome Poet!!!!!!!!!

    From the Social Workers all the way down to each client. Helena has such a unique way of bringing each character to life. Helena has worked very hard to bring a voice and face to hidden issues that has become all too common in the field of social work.

    Social Workers are not appreciated, paid enough and given the respect they deserve. Once you walk away from seeing ” Call Me Crazy”, you will have a better understanding of how Social Workers need a round of applause for all thy have to endure.

    Your number 1 supporter,

    Adrian ( The LLLLLLOOOOOOUUUNNNGGEEEEEE SINGA)

  3. Attitude of, “You think you have problems…..do you have five minutes?”

  4. Sounds like we have another Anna Deveare Smith in the creative world of theater!

    This performance sounds brilliant – so sorry I wasn’t aware of it when it was here in NYC. Super praise and gratitude to Helena for portraying the day to day existence of SW and the ever changing kaleidoscope of characters we encounter.

    With gratitude to Helena for applying her talents to enlighten others,
    Kathy Gurland, LCSW

  5. I’ve known Helena for over 10 years when we recite poetry together at open mics in the Northern and Central New Jersey areas. She is one of my favorite poets to watch and I had the honor to see her one-woman stage play “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker” this year at the Schomburg Center. She truly captured her experiences and the daily struggles that social workers deal with at the workplace in an entertaining and thought provoking performance. I’m not a social worker, but I do have a better appreciation of the difficult job they encounter with very little pay and recognition for their efforts. If you have the opportunity to see “Call Me Crazy”, please do so because you will not be disappointed.

    Helena, congratulations and keep up the excellent work. I’m so proud of you.

    Bill Holmes
    http://www.BillHolmes.com
    Poet, Writer and ESSENCE Best Selling Author of One Love

    “Every word I write is an extension of my breath, my heart, and my soul that I want the world to share and to remember long after my life has come to an end.”

  6. Not for the faint of heart. This one-woman show is for the Social Worker who’s been in the nastiest front line and needs a good laugh….before they cry.

  7. I heard about the play from a SW friend. I gathered several people and took the trip to New York. My group laughed and screamed at the true to life experiences of the field. Ms. Lewis has captured the essence of the people we encounter in various areas of the field as well as the social workers deep compassion we hold when trying to assist our clients. Thank you Helena. It’s a play that every social worker should see so spead the word. Five star perfromance.

  8. Helena,

    You did a magnificent job in portraying the daily activities we face as social workers, counselors and therapists. Everyone thinks our job is “easy” because of what they see on TV. However, you showed a different angle to our society. You highlighted the every day issues of our community. I too was born and raised in Newark. I wished everyone could see your play, especially government officials. We do so much work and are under paid and unappreciated. Maybe if people saw your play they would realize that there are others less fortunate and require lots of help.
    I often ask myself, when people see us walking down the street and knocking on someone’s door, do they think we are addicts? Do they know who we are and the services we provide? Do they know the danger that we place ourselves in to help others?
    Keep up the good work. Do not lose faith. I will end with this note: my husband went to see the show thinking it was going to be a comedy. He left there with a different level of appreciation for what we do.

    THANK YOU! GOD BLESS!

  9. This is so awsome, I saw the play here in Winston Salem, N.C. and you did a awsome job portraying all your characters. Keep up the Great work that your doing, your an inspiration to all.

  10. Nice!!!

  11. Welcome to the world of “Changed Agents” and we too become Chaged in the process and who cares for Us? Thanks Helena D. Lewis!!!

  12. “I don’t think (social service providers) get recognized for what we do. We get paid the least amount to deal with the most important commodity in the world – human life.”
    And important this work truly is. How can we make a change for our profession to be better recognized?

  13. ‎”I don’t think (social service providers) get recognized for what we do. We get paid the least amount to deal with the most important commodity in the world – human life.”…So true! Incredible woman!!! You go girl!

  14. I saw this show at the Down Town Urban Theater Festival at the Cherry Lane Theater and I’ve been a fan every since that day. I was there when she announced on stage after her 9th sold out show she was moving to the Schomburg. So, glad the show is still going strong and it is still selling out at every venue. It is a must see for anyone who ever had a bad day at work.

    You are a star Helena!!!!!!

    -Kraal

  15. Saw this more than once, know Helena from the poetry scene and I’ve been a fan for a long time. Social workers and teachers…the unsung heroes who keep this whole thing together. Thanks for your work and love you Helena….
    Clare

  16. I was blessed to see “Call Me Crazy” at the Nuyorican just before she moved on up to the Schomburg. It is a masterful work filled with identifiable situations, relatable characters, and moments that made me laugh until I cried! Much continued success, Helena! DC had better be ready for you!

  17. Helena was AWESOME! CALL ME CRAZY was more than I expected. I looked for all drama, but I laughed a lot. My favorite part was the vogue routine. That was hilarious!! Thank you Helena for sharing your story with us. LOVE YA!

  18. There is a reason why this is a continuously sold out show. Helena does such a great job in capturing the different faces of your experiences on the job. The show definitely makes you laugh at the same time making you think. The is a most see show. I personally have seen this a number of times. I guess you can call me crazy too. Oh well. Please go see it!

  19. HDL’s play forces you to think about its social issues of today!

  20. Helena D. Lewis is an inspiration – thank you for your great work!!!

  21. This play had me Laughing Out Loud. It was like she was inside my head. It was great hearing that I am not the only Social Worker who feels like this.

  22. Saw the play in 2010…….quite heart warming, hilarious and really moving I was touched..the way Helena depicts…..the social work realm. Plan too see it again and take other with me.

  23. I saw this show in Brooklyn. Get a seat in the front row. Hold on you are going for a ride. HDL makes it happen right before your eyes.

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  1. Exclusive: A Scene from “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker” | Social Workers Speak

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