By Angelina Silvester
Welcome to NYWIFT, Karyn Levitt! Karyn Levitt is president of Royal Road Productions. A singer/writer/producer, she conceives, develops, and performs shows, such as On Hollywood and Weimar: The Songs of European Composers from the Golden Age of Film and Will There Still Be Singing? A Hanns Eisler Cabaret, at venues such as Off-Broadway’s York Theatre, Cafe Sabarsky, Feinstein’s/54 Below, D.C. Jewish Music Festival, and beyond.
Levitt co-conceived, produced and performed in Happy Birthday, Eric Bentley at the Town Hall. Her first film, Honoring Eric Bentley: A Centennial Tribute Concert, premiered at New Plaza Cinema and will screen in Berlin and Boston in the Fall of 2023.
Karyn spoke to us about her transition from the world of cabaret to filmmaking.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a new filmmaker. I’ve mainly been writing, producing, and singing one-woman cabaret shows, and came to NYC nine years ago to develop a show with Eric Bentley – playwright, drama critic, and the world authority on Bertolt Brecht. This singular collaboration around Brecht songs by Eisler and others led to my producing the centennial tribute to Bentley at Town Hall, which we professionally filmed for future release.
But as a young woman I also worked for a filmmaker for seven years, learning the ropes, and became an associate producer on a documentary. It’s thrilling that my first film, Honoring Eric Bentley, just had its world premiere at NYC’s New Plaza Cinema.
What is your favorite project to date?
My favorite project to date is my cabaret show, On Hollywood and Weimar: The Songs of European Jewish Composers from the Golden Age of Film. After a deep dive into Eisler-Brecht songs with Eric Bentley, I started to realize that composer Hanns Eisler, who’d worked in Hollywood, wasn’t alone – that many composers from Hollywood’s golden age were European Jews, some of whom, like Eisler, were in LA because they’d fled the Nazis.
I’ve learned so much about these marvelous artists in the process of putting my shows together. Take for instance the song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling,” from High Noon – it was written by Ukrainian composer Dimitri Tiomkin with lyricist Ned Washington. The two Oscars High Noon won were both for the film music – one for Best Song, and the other for Best Score by Tiomkin.
I think it’s important to highlight the contributions of Jewish artists to American pop culture, especially since anti-Semitism is on the rise. Even in my work as a singer/producer, it’s film composers I keep coming back to.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received came from a great friend, which was to call up Eric Bentley and ask for his advice about a show I wanted to build around Kurt Weill’s songs.
This led to everything I’ve done in the last 12 years – taking on the neglected, brilliant repertoire of Hanns Eisler at Eric Bentley’s suggestion; recording my album, Eric Bentley’s Brecht-Eisler Song Book; producing the tribute to Bentley at Town Hall; creating the shows Will There Still Be Singing? A Hanns Eisler Cabaret and On Hollywood and Weimar: The Songs of European Jewish Composers from the Golden Age of Film, both of which I perform with wonderful pianists; and finally completing the film of the event at the Town Hall, which will soon be premiered in Berlin and Boston.
So, in my case, an amazing friend had an impulse for me, and following her suggestion turned into this artistic calling and path, which has led me to become a filmmaker, too.
What brought you to NYWIFT?
A professional colleague recommended I join NYWIFT to connect with other women producers in NYC. Being a first-time filmmaker, I’m very new to all this, and it’s great to have a network of support. I’m looking forward to getting to know other women in the industry, especially producers, and working creatively with people on projects I don’t know even exist.
Your company, Royal Road Productions, has recently finished work on a tribute concert for Eric Bentley. Can you share a little from behind the scenes?
Yes, Honoring Eric Bentley is my first film. The project started with my producing the centennial tribute to theater legend Eric Bentley at Town Hall, leading a star-studded cast – with Tony Kushner, Austin Pendleton, Michael Riedel, James Shapiro, and others.
The event was essentially a birthday party for a legendary man of the theater. One of my co-producers suggested we bring out a huge cake on stage and at the intermission give cupcakes to the audience. It was adorable to celebrate this theater legend in his 100th year in a way that any child would dream about.
To learn more about Karyn and her tribute to Eric Bentley, check out the film’s website here!
Honoring Eric Bentley will have additional screenings in Fall 2023:
September 14, 2023 at 8 PM, Kino Babylon (Berlin) — European premiere
September 23, 2023 matinee, New Plaza Cinema (NYC)
October 25, 2023 at 7:30 pm, Davis Square Cinema (Somerville, MA)
And Karyn will perform “Will There Still Be Singing? A Hanns Eisler Cabaret” at The Goethe Institute in Boston on October 24.