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BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOS

Ten years in and the Dueling Pianos Show is more popular than ever.

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOS

Mark Weiser is one busy guy. Ten years ago he had an idea and that idea turned into one of the most popular shows in New York City, and for all this time he has been at every single show, all the while promoting it when not actually seated behind the piano. Shake, Rattle & Roll Dueling Pianos has a decade-long history of providing rollicking rock & roll entertainment to sold old houses that pack the bar where the show plays, and the crowds remain regulars because the evening's entertainment is different every single night. Not many shows can boast that! Weiser has had the opportunity to take his creation on the road, into private venues, and even peoples' homes.

Nominated for a few Broadway World Cabaret Awards this season, I reached out to Mr. Weiser to ask how he came to create the series, how he has kept it going all these years, and if whether or not his production company feels accepted by the cabaret community because they sure are accepted by the club-going public.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.


Mark Weiser, welcome to Broadway World! Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today. You are the producer of a show with a really long name: SHAKE, RATTLE, & ROLL DUELING PIANOS. When you created the show, did you worry that having a name that wasn't compact and easy to roll off the tongue might hinder the formation of a following?

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOSWow, no one's ever asked that before. I don't think I ever thought of the name as 'long', but we typically refer to ourselves just as "Shake Rattle & Roll". The "Dueling Pianos" part is just there so people know what KIND of show we do, and also, and more importantly, for the digital/search component, since DUELING PIANOS will be what people are looking for online if they don't already know about us.

The show has been running for a really long time, so obviously you did find that following - was it an immediate reaction that the people had to the show, or did it take some time to build up your clientele?

We have always been really fortunate with our outreach. When we started in 2010, social media marketing was in its heyday, and companies like Groupon and LivingSocial really grabbed onto our concept and gave us an early push with ticket sales that helped fill those early houses. As the show grew, we kept moving into bigger and bigger venues, and now we can get up to 170 people in at each show.

For our readers who don't know, why don't you use your best high-concept verbiage to explain what the show is, and why it has attracted the crowds for so long?

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOSBasically, we are an all-request, rock n roll party where YOU pick the playlist. No two shows are ever the same, there's no script, no set-list, and no plan. It's a mix of music, comedy, interaction, games, roasts, and toasts. With THOUSANDS of songs and the best piano players on the East Coast, anything goes!

This idea, that the show is always different every night, has brought people back to us over and over again because they never know what they're going to see or hear.

Do you perform in every Dueling Pianos Show or are you working with a rotating cast of musicians?

I try to be there at every show for a variety of reasons, but we do have a phenomenal crew of rotating performers that I am blessed to work along-side. We pride ourselves on maintaining the customer experience from their very first phone call or email, all the way through the night of the show, and beyond, so they know that the same person who answers their calls is also who seats them, performs for them, and maintains that relationship after the night is over.

You have done a lot of different work in your show business life - is the Dueling Piano Show your only focus these days, or are you able to follow other pursuits as well?

These days, SRR Pianos as a whole is my focus, and while our Times Square show is the anchor of our company, we do a whole lot more!

Ours is a national company, performing regional shows as well as private events throughout the 48 states and Canada, and in normal times, we can do over 600 shows annually. We've performed for Presidents, heads of state, celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, and your next-door neighbors for celebrations of all sizes. Keeping that engine running is a full-time job, so I'm not just a performer, I'm also the owner...

What was the deciding thought that led you to create the Dueling Pianos Show as a longtime gig? After a decade, do you ever get tired or long for something else?

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOS

After a lifetime of working for other (sometimes unscrupulous) bar owners, I wanted to be my own boss for once. New York had never had its own, well-produced, ongoing Dueling show, while every other market in the country had done so. I knew we could do it better, and with a lifetime of producing experience that ranged from working alongside the biggest club kids of the 80s, and being mentored by some of Broadway's biggest producers, I knew we could approach the job of live music production in a way that had never been done before. Fortunately for my short-attention-span brain, having a show that is always changing is something I really look forward to every night. Our audiences keep us on our toes, and it's always fun seeing what we'll have to play. It's like writing a brand new musical every time, and that never gets old.

You took the act online when the show business shutdown happened. What has been your experience with that transition and making the internet work for you?

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOSWhile all of our performing brethren have had a really rough go of this pandemic, and we're no exception, we were able to hit the ground running as soon as we knew our venue would be closed down, and we acted quickly to move our entire operation online, so that the very week we were quarantined, we were performing online that Saturday night. This coming week will be our 40th episode, and we've been able to find an international audience that comes back week after week, which makes all of this really worthwhile - fans of ours from around the world now know each other, and have formed friendships that would never have been possible.
We also have innovated new products to fit these virtual times, like our PIANO BINGO game, which blends your favorite piano bar experience with the thrills of competitive Bingo, and every week someone wins $100 cash at our Wednesday night online game.

You are a master at promotion, working industriously to keep the show in the public eye - where did you acquire all of your knowledge about the art of self-promotion?

Ha - thanks! As I mentioned, I got to learn first-hand from a strong variety of great promoters and producers. Growing up in the NYC club scene, I saw firsthand how these club kids packed 1000+ people into their parties every night, and what tools they brought to bear. As I got older, and my interests turned to theater, I learned from masters like Kevin McCollum, how a long-running Broadway show is able to continually fill its houses, and how theatrical events were able to reach out to brand new audiences that never considered Broadway as something 'cool' or 'hip' before. Applying the ideas from those worlds to the arena of live music gave me new perspectives and approaches in promoting a show to new audiences, and in new ways.


Also, while my fellow piano playing colleagues looked to idols like Billy Joel or Elton John, my inspiration came from impresarios like P.T. Barnum - that man could sell anything. On my desk is a piece of paper that says "WWPTD". What Would P.T. Do? Whenever I hit a creative wall, or have a production problem I can't solve, I look at that paper, and every single time, an answer reveals itself. There are always creative solutions to promotional problems, and they just have to be found.

There are a lot of artists who feel shy about self-promotion, or who would like to be better at it but don't know where to start. What wisdom could you impart to those people?

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOSIt's a cliche, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Shy people, quiet people, the fearful people, they just don't get noticed or attention in the marketplace. You can't be afraid to shout your attributes from the rooftops. What makes your show the BEST EVER? What makes your skills INCREDIBLY UNIQUE? What corner of the marketplace can you occupy that NO ONE ELSE CAN? Find the singular elements of your work and build on those. Create a campaign of superlatives. WWPTD.

The cabaret and concert business is an industry but it is also a community. Has the Shake, Rattle & Roll family felt a sense of community from the other artists working within the small venue business of New York City?

Thanks for asking this. While our show has flowered and prospered these past 10 years, with blessings of sold-out houses week after week, I feel like the cabaret community hasn't really taken to our little show. Maybe it's because we're a rock and roll show? That seems so odd to me, because my creative approach to our version of the Dueling Pianos art form (and yes, it does vary from region to region), is to craft it like a 'rock n roll cabaret' - a mix of music, story, interaction, and comedy. To me, it's a perfect fit within the cabaret world, continuing its evolution for a new generation and with new music forms that don't really see themselves in 'more traditional' cabaret shows. It's one of the few disappointments we've encountered, that after ten years in NYC, we still have no real presence on cabaret sites, or from cabaret awards, or publications, or reviews...But there's always hope that after the covid days are done, maybe a new awareness will come.

As to the concert venue community, we've been able to forge relationships over the years, where we have successfully worked to cross-promote our event with various other shows, tourist events, and even Broadway shows.

After a decade of Shake, Rattle, & Roll, what would you consider the next natural step that would take your show to the next level?

This covid sensibility has opened our eyes to the world of live-streaming, and one of the things we're looking at is how we can bring our show out of the showroom, and include audiences from around the world simultaneously, with live streams of our Times Sq. Shows melding our live audiences with virtual ones.

Mark, these are tough times for artists - in what ways can fans and followers help Shake, Rattle & Roll to survive the harsh economic times of the show business shutdown?

Thanks for this! People can patronize any of our online shows, including Name That Tune on Tuesdays at 8, PIANO BINGO Wednesdays at 7, and DUELING PIANOS Saturdays at 8 - tune in, participate, be a part of our community, and pick your own songs for our sing-along shows!


Our site is HERE and our show schedule is HERE

BWW Interview: Mark Weiser of SHAKE RATTLE N ROLL DUELING PIANOS

Thank you so much for visiting with us today. I look forward to catching your act in person when the clubs reopen.

All photos provided by Mark Weiser.


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