Published: By Brian Nearing Published 10:56 am EDT, Thursday, March 21, 2019
It is one of the earliest rules most of us are taught: Don’t break that.
But what if you could break whatever you wanted? As your favorite song pumps through loudspeakers?
Welcome to the global phenomenon of the “rage room,” now coming to the Capital Region.
Started in Japan about a decade ago, rage rooms (also called smash rooms or anger rooms) are popping up across major cities in the U.S. and around the world. A combined form of entertainment and stress relief for the frustrations of modern living, the rooms allow those inside to wield various implements of destruction to smash breakable objects like electronics, glassware, plates and furniture.
As a concept, it helps to think about the classic scene in the 1999 movie “Office Space,” where three frustrated cubicle dwellers take the office’s balky printer into a field and pummel it to bits with a baseball bat, while backed by a rap soundtrack.
“It is destruction therapy, in a controlled, safe environment,” said Lisa Birmingham, co-owner with her fiancé, Steve Cusano, of the Relief Room, on Route 9 in Malta. “It is for stress relief, and for fun.”
Inside a small office park building, the facility has two rooms and an array of items for customers to bash with baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers. Each room has Bluetooth speakers so customers, attired in safety helmets, gloves and other protective gear, can play the proper music to accompany flying glass and shards.
“The crowbar works best for wine glasses and liquor bottles. They just explode,” Birmingham said. During a recent visit, a Times Union reporter swung away to the sounds of blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd. (It’s true. The bottles do explode …)
Each room has an shatterproof exterior viewing window, so friends can safely witness and cheer on the mayhem, although shades can be drawn if someone is uncomfortable displaying their destruction (possibly involving a keepsake from the ex?).
A 32-year-old former optician and mother of two, Birmingham got the idea for the business after going to a rage room two years ago during a visit to the Philippines. “I threw a bunch of plates against the wall, and loved it,” she said. “Afterward, I told people it would almost be worth the $1,500 ticket to go back and do it again.”
Rage seems to be on the rise in modern society, from increasingly common episodes of road rage to strangers hurling bilious insults at each other through social media or even in person in stores or parking lots.
“We chose Relief Room because we wanted to stress the positive aspects of this. Rage is a negative thing,” Birmingham said. Doors open on Friday (March 29), with the business website — https://thereliefroom.com/ —taking reservations now.
The Relief Room also offers its customers a chance to make artwork out of their destruction, using suitable pieces and parts, said Birmingham, holding up as an example a colorful mosaic tile made of broken plates and glasses.
“We call this part ‘break and create,’ where people can build back up from what was destroyed,” said the 34-year-old Cusano, a quality control inspector at the Watervliet Arsenal.
Whatever materials are not converted into art projects will be sorted into recyclables and properly disposed of, he said.
Currently, the only other rage rooms in the state are in New York City, but a website for an operation in Rochester is up, announcing it intends to open soon, although no date is provided.
Rage room customers cannot be drinking of alcohol and must wear protective gear — no shorts, open-toed shoes, sandals, or short-sleeved shirts. Visibly intoxicated people will be turned away.
Participants also must sign liability waivers like those at ski centers.
Not surprisingly, the issue of liability insurance was a bit of a stumbling block for both businesses. “We had to go through several potential insurance carriers, who had no idea of what we wanted to do, before we found one who would write it,” said Birmingham, a graduate of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce’s entrepreneur boot camp.
“The program helped me a lot to understand the grit and perseverance it takes to start a business,” she said.
Prices range from as low as $25 for a 15-minute session at the Relief Room for BYOB (bring your own breakables, anything with toxic chemicals or other dangerous substances excluded) to $115 for a 30-minute rampage with five buckets of small stuff, along with with nearly a dozen “medium” and “large” items like computer monitors, fish tanks, bookcases and end tables.
And all the owners want to make clear that a session of smashing old wine glasses is no substitute for traditional therapy or counseling, and should be viewed as entertainment while blowing off some steam.
“We are trying to provide a safe place to release these emotions,” said Birmingham. But people who have done it have afterward reported a “feeling of empowerment … and invigoration,” she said.
As this reporter can attest from a recent visit, violating the childhood taboo against breaking things was strangely satisfying, building up as glass after exploding glass, bottle after disintegrated bottle burst into pieces.
Taking a recently sharpened ax to a small, 1990s-era black plastic boombox served as a fitting climax, the music player jumping up off the table with each blow before finally being reduced to dozens of shattered bits strewn among glistening broken glass on the floor.
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