As a young girl, Toni Robison-May caught the acting bug. Growing up in Edmond, she would spend her days watching Shakespeare in the Park, dreaming about one day being the in the spotlight.
Now, living in Harlem, N.Y., the Oklahoma native has taken some major steps toward realizing those dreams: writing, producing and starring in her first short film, “Hurts Like Love.”
She first moved to New York in 2007 after graduating from college to pursue her acting career — a transition she said would have been a little daunting, had she not already had family in the area.
“I think people who move to New York without knowing anyone are the bravest people in the world,” Robison-May said. “Luckily, I had a great network of family and friends to support me. I truly feel at ease here, like it’s where I belong.”
During her first industry job in the city as a script reader, she met her now acting coach and mentor, Rosalyn Coleman Williams, who encouraged her to take on the project of creating her own short film, or what she calls “monologue shorts.”
“Rosalyn wanted to see if it was possible to do a short film about only one character, using only one actor, and have it be compelling and interesting for the audience,” Robison-May said. “She’s also a very big proponent of artists creating their own work instead of waiting for it to come to them.”
And create it she did. About to endure a crash course in filmmaking, Robison-May’s first task was to write a script — something she had never done before and was a little apprehensive about.
“The thought of writing a screenplay was terrifying to me,” she said. “I had experience writing poems and short stories, but not a screenplay. I had character and a plot in mind, so that made it a little bit easier.”
“Hurts Like Love” tells the story of Mel (Robison-May), a woman whose best friend, the bride, is getting married. But Mel struggles to be happy for her friend, because she is also in love with her.
“I had recently gone to a friend’s wedding and caught the bouquet, which was very exciting for me,” she said, “but then I thought, ‘What if catching the bouquet wasn’t something that made you happy?’ It was an interesting circumstance to explore.”
The production schedule was a whole other animal. “Hurts Like Love” was shot in one day over the course of 16 hours in Manhattan.
“I don’t recommend everyone try to shoot short film in 16 hours, but if you do, check your insanity at the door,” Robison-May said.
The short since has screened at the View from Here Film Festival in Connecticut and the iNdie Power Film Festival in New York City. Robison-May hopes to bring the film to Oklahoma for her friends and family to see.
“The best thing I took away from making this film was feeling completely empowered as an artist,” she said. “To see that I could accomplish something like this really motivated me and has shown me that all of those dreams I have aren’t as out of reach as I once thought.”