During her youth in Caledonia, in southeast Minnesota, Theresa Purcell often would entertain herself by smashing glass bottles in an alley near her house.
It was just teenage antics. Until a year ago, when Purcell, 33, hit a stress wall at her tech job.
“I was having a bad day, and thinking, ‘Man, I just want to smash everything around me,’ ” she said. Her fantasy was something like the famous scene from the 1999 film “Office Space,” in which three disgruntled employees go to town on a printer.
So, she started a business.
At the Break Room, St. Paul’s newest form of indoor recreation, participants can take something heavy and cause it to collide with something breakable, all for a feel-good time. It’s the latest addition to a worldwide trend of businesses cropping up so that people can safely let off steam in a satisfyingly destructive way.
The business officially opens inside of Can Can Wonderland, a new artist-designed mini-golf course in St. Paul, on Jan. 20 — “the day of the inauguration, not a coincidence,” Purcell said.
Customers will be able to book five-minute blocks to smash as many glass, ceramic and plastic breakables as they can load into a bin. When the Break Room acquires special items, like giant ceramic toilets, the privilege of breaking them apart will come with a higher price tag.
“People don’t quite picture how fun it is,” Purcell said. “It’s an endorphin release, it’s physical and it’s such an experience.”
This is just the latest entry in Purcell’s varied portfolio. She’s a blood special effects artist at the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement, curator of the Trash Film Debauchery film series, producer of the Mortified live storytelling series and a beekeeper.
“I’ve really enjoyed providing recreational experiences, but struggled to make a living out of it,” she said. “I hope the Break Room can bridge that gap.”
Besides, people need a place to let go of their anger.
“I think people are just feeling a lot of things right now,” she said.
Not everyone would agree that hammering a teacup is the right approach, though.
“We don’t recommend any kind of activity that is a behavioral rehearsal of an aggressive act,” said Dr. Katharine Nelson, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota Medical School. In other words, throw a vase against the wall once, and you’re more likely to want to do it again, maybe even at home.
“There used to be this old advice that if you’re feeling upset, punch your pillow. We’ve stopped saying that,” Nelson explained. “Because even though physical exercise can be a tremendous stress reduction, making the fist and doing that aggressive act actually reinforces the brain areas related to stress and fighting.”
Nelson recommends letting off steam in less destructive, more beneficial ways, like working out, breathing deeply, doing an adult coloring book, even getting a haircut. For those who just want to smash things, it’s better not to think of it as therapy, but rather recreation.
Purcell agrees with that concept. Although other break-room-style businesses, like the Anger Room in Dallas and the Rage Room in Toronto, specifically invite people who have some hostility to set free, Purcell intends for the Break Room to have a more positive vibe. It’s a decidedly Minnesota approach.
“I’m not a particularly angry person,” she said. “When I smash things, I’m not doing it because I need to let out a burst of aggression. I just love the sound of broken glass.”