Move over, Addictive Comedy – here comes ‘Hilarapy.’
The White Rock-based company – recipient of the 2020 South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for supporter of the arts – is re-branding to help bring its comedy-as-therapy concept to a broader audience.
Although originally focused on counselling clients recovering from various addictions, the company, founded by standup comedian/writer/rapper/musician Lizzie Allan, and co-run with her business and life partner Elaine Cheung, has been helping people with a wide range of mental health, trauma, loss and addiction issues since 2016.
“We just felt we were being pigeonholed; we were feeling the lash of the stereotypes,” Allan said about the reason for the new brand.
“We wanted to relate it more to the human condition – addiction is really part of the whole issue of mental health. Whether you’re addicted to your iPhone or crack cocaine, it’s something that’s pulling you out of the present and having a really bad effect on your life.”
She added that the company has been working with a branding organization that came up with, and tested, a number of new names – but Hilarapy got the green light.
“We loved it because it’s a new word, but also one that covers everything we do from entertaining, on the lighter side, to some of the deeper work behind the scenes, behind closed doors, where there is sometimes tears.”
The basic concept of Hilarapy is simple – laughter is a positive, relatable therapeutic tool for addressing problems that can otherwise seem overwhelming.
It was created by the British-born Allan – also a registered therapeutic counsellor – who is herself celebrating more than a decade of sobriety after successfully confronting her own mental-health and substance-abuse problems.
Transplanted to Canada when she emigrated some four years ago, the program has established firm roots on the Semiahmoo Peninsula and is now expanding activities to form partnerships with other like-minded organizations throughout the Lower Mainland.
While the purpose and the problems are indisputably serious, Hilarapy clients confront and work through ongoing issues by re-framing them as the raw material of standup comedy. Guided by the expertise of Allan and her team, they develop their own standup sets, which are ultimately performed in front of live audiences in a series of regular showcase comedy nights.
In addition, the company – featuring a stock company of frequent contributors and alumni – organizes special fundraising events and shows such as the recent, and hilarious, White Rock Famous comedy night, featuring Allan, Karina Cebuliak, Ellen Bradley-Cheung and Siobhan Coates, held Feb. 8 at Peninsula Productions’ black box theatre in Centennial Park.
“We’re trying to create a whole different experience from what people usually think of live comedy, presented in a healthy environment,” Allan said.
“We’re also trying to connect with as many non-profit and community groups as we can – whatever we can do to help,” said Cheung. “Our whole goal is raising consciousness.”
That includes working with children and young adults facing mental-health issues and providing support for the LGBTQ+ community, Cheung and Allan said.
Things are progressing rapidly for Hilarapy – including the acquisition of a White Rock property that will be converted, once all city permits are in place, into a home studio that will allow it to do classes and workshops as well as therapy sessions and also much more video production to augment live shows.
“The studio will be, hopefully, opening by the middle of July,” Cheung said.
But even before that, Hilarapy is producing a slew of live events starting with The Human Condition, billed as an ‘epic comedy marathon’ featuring 15 alumni of the program, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Elks Hall, 1469 George St.
Plans are for this show to be filmed as part of a forthcoming documentary being produced on the Hilarapy program, Allan and Cheung added.
On May 2, Peninsula Productions’ theatre will host a new version of last year’s well-received, tour-de-force solo show by Allan, (un)expecting, in which, using everything from standup to character comedy, music, video and rap, she chronicles the absurdities and many mixed emotions of attempting to become pregnant through artificial insemination.
That performance will actually be a warm-up for a run of the show, later in May, at the Orlando International Fringe Festival in Florida.
“Peninsula Productions’ Janet Ellis has been so good to us, allowing us to rehearse in their theatre, that we’re turning over all profits of the White Rock performance to them,” Allan said.
Jet-lagged or not, she’ll be back at the White Rock Buskers and Comedy Festival May 23, during which Hilarapy will take over the Landmark Pop-Uptown Gallery at Central Plaza for a Saturday live show.
Both Allan and Cheung said they were stunned – but gratified – by the company’s recognition through the chamber of commerce award, feeling that it’s part of a momentum for the program that has been picking up steadily over the last year.
“I’m so happy that the response we get from the public and organizations is so good,” Allan said. “When we tell people what we want to do, the answer is always, ‘Yes – tell me more.’
“There’s this huge wave of positivity for what we’re doing – and that’s been overwhelmingly beautiful.”