Tahlia Robinson is an energetic asset for Theatre 99. The 28-year-old trained with the comedy collective for a year before officially joining the company in 2009. She's now a regular part of Laugh for a Lincoln on Wednesday nights.
The young Charlestonian describes herself as the spawn of corporate America. When she isn't making audiences laugh, she's working for a cell phone company or running one of her two businesses: the soberly named T.R.G. Enterprises LLC Accounting and Two Minds Productions, an outlet for more creative endeavors that she owns with brother Timothy.
Like any comedy junkie growing up in Chucktown, Robinson has always been a fan of Theatre 99 and the Have Nots! "I went to see them back in middle school," she says. "I wanted to take improv classes to help me with my writing." At first, her scripted sketches were "funny things on the side to entertain my brother and friends," but now she's working on a major professional performance — a one-woman show called Straight Out of Charleston: The Introduction. "By the end of the year I want to show more of what I can do aside from improv," she says. "Theatre 99 is very supportive. They know I want to grow as a performer."
But how does unscripted comedy inform written material like her solo show? "Improv helps me to get over writer's block," she's discovered. "I have scenes and characters based on something I've done on stage." These ideas are inspired by audience suggestions and everyday observations, "like people driving on I-26 and children bugging out in Wal-Mart."
According to her improv teacher and T99 co-founder Greg Tavares, Robinson doesn't fall into the typical writer's trap of being "super intellectual, premisey, or thinky." She lets scenes unfold naturally instead of using a predetermined scenario. But at the same time, he says she's "finding her author's voice for different characters. Solo character pieces are where her talent and her future lie."
While Tavares praises her "positive, childlike energy," Robinson remains modest. "Performing is very foreign to me," she says. "I was more of a business major in college. What I've achieved here is unexpected in terms of getting over stage fright and having a lot of fun."
Her training has helped — not just from T99ers Tavares and Brandy Sullivan, but also visiting comedians from top groups like the Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City.
"I'm able to delve into improv a bit more with the chief U.S. teams," she says. "We get a sense of New York character development, Chicago scene work, an idea of what each city has to offer from different schools of thought." She feels spoiled by the "platter of insight" that's served at T99.
Audience members are the ones who really get spoiled, entertained by the well-trained comedians at the theater. According to Tavares, though, Robinson brings an "it factor" to the stage that can't be taught. "She has the charisma of a young Lily Tomlin," he says. "She's always on the edge of laughter, with an intoxicating energy that makes you smile. She had it in her first day in class — I can't take credit for it."
Robinson's effervescence and willingness to go to the outer limits of a character have made her a favorite with hardcore T99 fans. With her writing and performance style developing at a confident rate, she's destined to reach — and appeal to — a much wider audience.