Smash a TV, relieve stress? Patrons pay to break stuff at ‘rage rooms’ in Chicago and across the country

Chicago Tribune

A suburban elementary school teacher swings a mini sledgehammer at a 20-inch television, cracking the screen with several whacks until the old-fashioned cathode ray tube implodes in a small puff of smoke. Then she turns her attention to a stack of shiny white dinner plates, flinging a few against a plywood wall where they shatter and fall, leaving a trail of broken cookery.

After roughly 15 minutes of mayhem, Marie Musil says she’s satisfied.

“It’s definitely a good stress reliever,” the 38-year-old from west suburban Darien says on a recent Friday night, breathless and a little sweaty.

This is the controlled chaos of Rage Room, a River North entertainment venue where patrons pay to alleviate stress by demolishing breakable household items, electronics or objects of their choice brought from home.


Common sources of tension range from relationships to jobs to national politics: 3D-printed busts of President Donald Trump are available for the smashing at $8 each. The “Office Space”-style attraction draws corporate events, date nights, birthday celebrations and bachelor and bachelorette parties, as well as the brokenhearted and, occasionally, the grieving.

“It’s exhilarating,” said owner Joe Lupa, who opened Rage Room in fall 2017 as part of his entertainment company Escapades. “Not necessarily an escape from reality but to lose yourself, for a moment at least.”

Similar businesses are emerging across the country, despite the misgivings of some mental health experts who caution the method might do more harm than good.

“It offers no insight, especially to someone who has chronic anger,” said Chicago-based psychologist Bernard Golden, author of “Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work.” “No insight into old wounds that make them vulnerable to anger arousal. And in a sense, it’s rewarding destructive, rather than more constructive, ways to manage anger. It’s a quick fix.”


Marty Hlavacek (cq), of Wheeling, puts on protective gear before destroying items in a “Rage Room” a
Marty Hlavacek, of Wheeling, puts on protective gear before destroying items in a “rage room” at the Escapades Chicago Escape and Rage Room on Aug. 24, 2018, in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.
(John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Earlier this year, Shatter Zone in Loves Park, near Rockford, began providing “the perfect outlet for you to vent and get that weight off your shoulders,” according to the company’s website. In August, Outrage opened in Hannibal, Mo., and Smash Something came to Tulsa, offering “a safe place to break something.”

Smash Room in Lakeland, Fla., also opened early August, with a Tampa location scheduled to come in September. Many sites include disclaimers that they don’t provide medical advice or any professional treatment.

“We believe that sometimes it’s better to just do what you feel and lash out when you need to,” Smash Room’s website advertises. “What better place to do that without judgment, consequences or public humiliation than at Smash Room.”

In Chicago, Lupa says he’s seen many customers leave visibly unburdened.

Some, like Musil, are simply there for the novelty. She came for the first time at the request of a friend, initially finding the idea a little “bizarre,” warily eyeing the wreckage of coffee pots and coasters and computer monitors that others left behind.

But she said the session provided a good workout and did release some tension.

Other visits can be of a deeper, more emotional nature. Lupa says he rarely knows customers’ back stories when they book appointments, but patrons tend to be more open and emotive after a rage session, sometimes sharing intimate details of their lives.


Once a woman began smashing items, paused and then wept uncontrollably. When staff members tried to comfort her, she revealed her son recently committed suicide, Lupa recalls.

“It’s a catharsis,” he says. “From what I’ve seen, we really do help people.”

‘Part of the human condition’

Eighteen-year-old Paige Hogeveen purchased a session as a surprise to cheer up her boyfriend Bobby Crivokapich, who had lost his job earlier that day.

They choose from a variety of baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers. Everyone must don protective headgear, eyewear, gloves and leather jackets; pants and closed-toed shoes are required as well. No one can be under 18 or intoxicated, and customers must sign a waiver prior to the session.

Manager Roosevelt McMullan carries a stack of plates and ceramic discs picked for destruction in a “
Manager Roosevelt McMullan carries plates and ceramic discs picked for destruction Aug. 24, 2018, at the Escapades Chicago Escape and Rage Room in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.
(John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

The minimum price is $15 a person and the cost is per item. Patrons can select their background music.

Hogeveen watches from a viewing window as Crivokapich pulverizes various items to the pulse of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Crivokapich returns red-faced and out of breath, saying he “feels a little better,” while methodically removing each boot and shaking out a few pieces of rubble.

“I’d rather act upon it than talk about it,” he says.


The white walls of the rage room are covered in permanent marker messages scrawled by previous visitors, graffiti expressing a mix of humor and anger, gratitude and sadness.

2 years and I still haven’t killed him … thanks 2 this place!

Release your rage today! Leave happy

Therapy for a month

Psychologist Heidemarie Laurent believes the “rage room” phenomenon addresses a complicated and age-old struggle: how to grapple with human suffering. Yet she says the approach can be counterproductive.

“Given that emotions tend to work with behavior bidirectionally, acting in an aggressive or destructive way — by smashing things — is actually likely to feed into further rage instead of dissipating it,” says Laurent, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Research indicates the best way to handle distress is to turn toward the emotion without necessarily acting on it — fully experiencing rage, disappointment, anxiety and sadness “as passing states that are part of the human condition,” with a sense of openness and self-compassion, she says.

Golden says he hopes visits to these venues are generally one-time playful exercises rather than long-term solutions. Instead, he recommends relaxation techniques like yoga, breathing exercises and mindful meditation.

“Learning to pause, to think about whether we want to respond to anger, rather than really to just react to it,” he says.

Primal instinct?

The business concept dates back at least a decade.

Amid a national recession in Tokyo in 2008, those financially strained began paying to hurl dishes and cups against concrete slabs erected in the back of a truck dubbed “The Venting Place,” according to Reuters.

A pioneer in the industry, Donna Alexander opened Anger Room in Dallas in 2008 and is planning for another location in Kentucky in September. She says her inspiration came from growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1990s, where she knew people who went to jail for behaviors like punching holes in a wall. She wanted to create a safe space for people to express their anger or stress, and later in Dallas let friends and relatives bash items for $5 in her garage.

**** NOTE: CONTAINS GRAPHIC LANGUAGE **** Protective jackets and bats are hung on a wall with messag
Protective jackets and bats are hung on a wall with messages from users of a rage room on Aug. 24, 2018, at the Escapades Chicago Escape and Rage Room, in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.
(John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

“We’re all born with anger,” she says. “I just figured it was an alternative, a way to get rid of anger.”

In 10 years, she’s received some strange requests. Once a customer asked that the room be filled with balloons of varying sizes and proceeded to pop them. Another wanted a stack of newspapers and a deck playing cards, and then spent the session ripping them all up.

“To this day we don’t know what the meaning or purpose of this was,” she says.

Some come to Anger Room grappling with an illness, writing notes like “I will overcome this” on objects before destroying them. A group of work friends who were recently let go scheduled a “just got laid-off” party, adding a little levity to a difficult time, Alexander says.

Holidays are also popular, particularly the stresses of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. She hosts special breakup parties for Valentine’s Day, where folks bring in pictures or sentimental items like teddy bears.

“I think it’s a primal instinct we have,” Alexander says. “Afterward, it’s like a weight has been lifted.”

Twitter @angie_leventis


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