Pinball Rocks: How UPH is Rolling with the Pandemic and Keeping Fans Engaged

Universal Preservation Hall‘s newest exhibit, “Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball,” opened this week. We stepped into the Hall to check out the interactive exhibit, played some pinball, and even learned some new facts about American culture.

As we entered UPH, our temperatures were carefully checked, and we were asked to complete a brief form asserting our health. We also provided numbers for trace checking and provided gloves. Tape lines were marked out on the floor guiding our spacing, and with only 20 guests allowed in at a time, the environment felt very safe.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Clearly, everyone involved takes the COVID regulations seriously.

But COVID did not consume the exhibit’s energy at all. Fans of rock and roll as soon as you step foot in the main hall and it felt like we were in a pinball machine. The lights, rock music, and showcased rock-themed playable pinball machines combined with artifacts all helped to temporarily suspend the stress of daily life during a pandemic. Instead, the exhibit, on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, engaged fans in active play.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Spanning from Alice Cooper’s classic horror adventure game to The Beatles’ pinball machines, the exhibit featured Metallica, Dolly Parton, Guns ‘n Roses, KISS, Elvis, and AC/DC.

The drum set from KISS was front and center, as was Pete Townsend’s acoustic guitar that was used to compose “Pinball Wizard.” There was also a Dolly Parton dress on display and other rock ‘n roll memorabilia.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

My favorite machine was The Who’s Pinball Wizard “Tommy,” mostly because it had multiple balls in play. The Who’s music is also a fave of mine, and the backlit glass didn’t feature any demeaning pictures of women with large bosoms. But I also have to own that the Elvis Presley game was a good time, and Metallica’s machine drew me back again and again.

UPH also had an informative video that asked challenging questions, including why men were more often drawn to the game, and how the art portrayed women in sexualized ways on the games.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Pinball games, unlike phone video games, are incredibly physical, and the players were leaning in, hooting with some excitement, and moving about with high dance energy. The background music set the tone for a really enjoyable couple of hours of interactive play.

Jim Murphy from Proctors Collaborative shared that this exhibit had been planned prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Proctors decided to push through and work within the boundaries of the new policies governing exhibits, offering music lovers a much-needed escape.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

And listen, even if you don’t love pinball, you’ll be a pinball wizard before you are through the exhibit. With 16 games on the floor and only 20 guests allowed in at a time, you are guaranteed to get plenty of socially distanced, safe play.

UPH’s exhibit shows that the arts can roll with the changes, and still have a rocking good time.

Photo Gallery by Jim Gilbert

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