Grapevine celebrates 25 years of honored wines

By Laura Smith

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Photo by Laura Smith

Grape stomping, wine sipping, corndog-eating and Ferris wheel riding are just a few of the activities guests participated in last weekend in Grapevine, Texas, at the 25th annual GrapeFest–A Wine Experience.

GrapeFest, the largest wine festival in the Southwest, began in 1986, and its People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic is the largest, consumer-judged wine competition in the nation. This year’s competition featured 119 wines from 33 Texas wineries. In addition to wine tasting and judging, GrapeFest featured a grape stomping competition, in which the winning team of two pounded out 39.76 ounces of juice to claim the coveted Purple Foot Award.

Attending GrapeFest not only opens visitors’ eyes to new wines, but it introduces Grapevine’s surrounding attractions, shopping and authentic Texas-style restaurants to savor. Grapevine’s newest additions, Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Aquarium, attract visitors of every age. Legoland combines fun with education about how Legos are built and used. Sea Life features more than 30 displays of marine life, including 11 sharks in the main Ocean Tank. The two attractions are located at Grapevine Mills Mall, which has more than 180 stores and the newly restored Palace Arts Center, which is home to the Grapevine Opry and hosts a number of performing arts groups throughout the year. The city’s a boon to meeting planners even when the festival isn’t in town: There’s more than 800,000 square feet of meeting space at venues including the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, Great Wolf Lodge and other area hotels.

Proceeds from GrapeFest benefit the Grapevine Heritage Foundation’s restoration and program development at Nash Farm, where groups learn about the history of the North Texas settlement, farming technology and more. Multiple venues on the farm can be rented for special events.


All About Timing

By Laura Smith

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Timing is everything, especially during meetings and events. Food must be served before attendees get hungry and impatient. Breakout sessions must coordinate with speakers’ schedules. Keynotes must be scheduled according to the mood and tempo of the conference.

The timing of your social media reach is equally important. Last week, a webinar by HubSpot, a marketing company, addressed the science of social media timing. Dan Zarrella, Hubspot’s social media scientist, explained that tweeting at a certain time or sending an e-blast on a specific day makes a difference in the amount of attention it gets. Social media, he said, is like a cocktail party. When you’re at a party and everyone is talking, it can be hard to hear. But when two people step into another room to talk, they can hear one another. It’s the same with social media. The concept is called contra-competitive timing: avoiding crowds by delivering content when others aren’t so you have a greater chance of getting attention.

Below are facts and resources to help time your social media:

– Retweets happen most later in day or week. Use to find when most of your retweets happen.
– Saturday and Sunday tweets get the most clicks.
– Most followed Tweeters send an average of 22 messages a day­. The more you Tweet, the better, but content matters. If you’re Tweeting links from other websites, send a lot of them. But if you’re Tweeting content from your own websites, don’t go crazy; only Tweet once or twice per day.

– More articles are posted during the week but more are shared on the weekend because the “noise” is turned down.
– Articles published early in the morning do better than those published in the afternoon. This could vary for your organization, so monitoring your audience response is important.

Food Factories

Ever wondered how cheese, pretzels or taffy is made? Find out on a factory tour.

By Laura Smith

To see the original article in Groupaway Magazine, click here.

Biting into a salty, crunchy pretzel or taking a lick off the top of a cold ice cream cone can instantly put you in a better mood. Everyone has a favorite treat they reach for to satisfy a sweet tooth or a late-night craving. We all know what the packages look like on the grocery-store shelves, but to really know what you’re digging into, take a tour of these group-friendly food factories. They offer behind-the-scenes looks at the manufacturing of some of America’s favorite foods and share their fresh treats with visitors straight from the assembly line.

Cabot Cheese

Cabot, Vermont

The central Vermont woods might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of dairy products, but that’s where Cabot Creamery is creating award-winning cheddar cheese, rich butter and more. Tours begin with a short film on the history of the creamery, which is also a farmers’ co-op, and the town. Visitors then head down a long hall, nicknamed Cheddar Hall, to see large vats and a finishing table where cheese is sliced. No hairnets are required — the view is through windows. Guests then visit the towers where cheese curds are pressed into solid form and the packaging area where products are sent down the assembly line and prepared for final shipment.

Throughout the tour, guests sample all Cabot specialty cheeses, mustards, jams, pretzels and more. The creamery’s store sells sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurts, cheddar powder (for popcorn) and, of course, 31 types of cheese. Some of Cabot’s popular cheddar flavors include smoky bacon, garlic and herb, habanero, chipotle and chili-lime.

“I think they enjoy the whole thing,” Laurie Callahan, senior manager of retail stores and tourism, says about tour guests. “If they’re coming to the plant in Cabot, they love cheese [and] we have the world’s best cheddar,” she says. Proof is in the many awards the creamery has received.

Where: 2878 Main St., Cabot, Vermont

When: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (changes seasonally)

How much: $2 for anyone 12 and older

Need to know: Reservations for large motorcoach tours are encouraged; call ahead to confirm cheese-making days, 800-837-4261

More info:

Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels

Hanover, Pennsylvania

Snyder’s of Hanover has been making crunchy, salty pretzels since 1909 when Harry V. Warehime, founder of Hanover Canning Company (Snyder’s parent company until 1980), began producing the legendary snack. Today, Synder’s is a top pretzel baker in the world, selling 10 million bags a week. A Snyder’s of Hanover tour, which has been offered for 24 years, gives guests a look at what it takes to make the famous Hanover pretzels and chips.

A factory guide leads guests on the hour-long tour through the mezzanine level, giving guests a bird’s-eye view of the factory. The tour begins overlooking the warehouse, where guests watch robots bag and box pretzels while hearing fun facts about the factory. For example, the factory uses more than 100 tons of pretzel salt per month, and 25,000 pounds of flour is delivered every day. Guests then head to the packaging room to see seven of the largest ovens in the world, measuring 150 feet long. The tour concludes in the potato-chip processing area where potatoes are washed and peeled and Synder’s tortilla chips are cooked. Guests receive a complimentary bag of mini pretzels at the conclusion of the tour.

Where: 1250 York St.,

Hanover, Pennsylvania

When: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

How much: Free

Need to know: Reservations required at least 24 hours in advance; 800-233-7125, Ext. 8592

More info:

Sweet’s Candy

Salt Lake City, Utah

Family owned for five generations, Sweet’s Candy is the product of the Utah-based Sweet family, a fitting last name for the company that produces more than 200 types of candy and is a top maker of saltwater taffy.

Curtis Anderson, who runs the 5-year-old Sweet’s Candy tour, says guests get excited about the family ownership of the company as much as the candy itself. More than 30,000 people take the tour each year, getting an inside look at the candy-making process. They walk the floor of the factory, getting close enough to the sweets that they can smell them.

On the tour, groups see orange sticks (orange jelly covered in chocolate), cinnamon bears, taffy and all things chocolate. The tour takes a spin through the raw materials area, taffy kitchen (where guests see taffy being whipped and poured over giant cooling wheels), chocolate-melting room, jelly bean room, enrober (a chocolate waterfall) and three packaging areas, where 300 pieces of candy are packaged each minute. Guests get to try free samples of candy fresh off the line, and can purchase overstock sweets in the factory store at a slight discount.

Where: 3780 West Directors Row,

Salt Lake City, Utah

When: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

How much: Free

Need to know: As many as 100 people can take a tour at one time and appointments are required; 801-886-1444. Parking lot has designated spaces for buses.

More info:

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream

Waterbury, Vermont

Cherry Garcia. Half Baked. Chubby Hubby. Ben and Jerry’s might be known as much for wacky ice cream names as it is for the ice cream itself. The factory tour in Waterbury takes guests through colorful halls with a mooing cow soundtrack in the background to the Cow Over the Moon Theater, which shows a short film about the company history and fun facts about the ice cream. Guests are then led to a mezzanine level to look out over the production floor where the approximately 60 different types of ice cream are made. Finally, guests head to the flavor room where they receive a generously-sized free sample of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream of the day.

After the tour, visitors can also taste current flavors at the Scoop Shop, see the cow pasture and stock up on souvenirs at the gift shop. One popular attraction is the flavor graveyard, where each retired ice cream flavor has a tombstone dedicated to the tasty legacy it left. The tour, which has been in operation since 1986, can accommodate 40 people and usually gets about 300,000 to 500,000 guests a year.

Where: 1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury, Vermont

When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with some seasonal changes); ice cream is made Monday to Friday.

How much: $3 adults, $2 seniors, children free; packages that include coupons and a T-shirt are $21.

Need to know: Adults get in free if they check in on Foursquare before visiting. A large parking lot can hold several motorcoaches. Reservations for groups of 10 or more are highly encouraged.

More info:

Tabasco pepper sauce

Avery Island, Louisiana

One drop of world-famous Tabasco Pepper Sauce can leave a person sweating with its combination of tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. In Louisiana, everything is made with a little kick to it and Avery Island’s most famous product is no exception. The Tabasco Sauce factory is surrounded by the Cajun bayou and offers up-close tours of how the spicy condiment is made.

The tour begins in the lobby where guests can watch clips of commercials and TV programs that feature Tabasco products. They then head to an exhibit area where a guide explains the process of making the sauce from picking peppers to completion. Visitors then watch an eight-minute film on the history of the company and Avery Island, and move to the production room where they see the machinery that bottles the sauce. The tour ends in the interactive room. Here, guests can play games related to Tabasco and see one of the actual vats stirring the pepper sauce. Guests receive three miniature Tabasco bottles — original, green pepper and chipotle — upon completion of the tour.

Guests can visit the country store after the tour is over and buy all things Tabasco, including Tabasco-branded clothing, kitchenware, decorations, cookbooks, golf bags and Cajun food such as crawfish etouffee. Free samples of unusual Tabasco-infused products like spicy Tabasco Coca-Cola and Tabasco ice cream are also available.

Where: Avery Island, Louisiana

When: Daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; tours run every 15 to 20 minutes.

How much: Free; $1 to enter island

Need to know: Tours can take up to 40 people at a time. The factory has a large parking lot that can fit a motorcoach.

More info:

Journeys: Small towns made famous

See original article in Groupaway Magazine here
Hollywood brings recognition and group tours to sleepy cities

Only the magic of Hollywood can turn a beach town on the North Carolina coast into a haven for young teenage girls or a small Pennsylvania city into a destination for comedy enthusiasts. And only the fantasy world of a novel can turn a rainy, quiet town in upstate Washington into a haven for vampire lovers. Thanks to appearances in well-known television shows and movies, small towns across the country are gaining notoriety and a new visitor market.

Before the “Twilight” book series came along, Forks, Wash., was simply a small fishing town outside Olympic National Park in the northwestern corner of the county. Now, a pale teenager with a thirst for blood has turned it into a mecca for vampire lovers of all ages. In 2008, 18,736 visitors signed the guestbook at the Forks visitors center. So far this year, 43,000 visitors have scribbled their names down, says Marcia Bingham, director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce. “It’s simply a fantasy we’re playing in,” she says. “We won the lottery, that’s how I look at it.”

Tour groups escaping to the tiny town are not all love-struck teenagers who want to catch a glimpse of actor Robert Pattinson, Bingham says. Families and over-40 travelers are increasing, too. Dazzled by Twilight ( has three tours a day throughout the year, with a special evening tour in the summer, which bring the “Twilight” world to life. Each two- to three-hour tour features a guided trip through Forks. For $39, the tour includes a snack or lunch and photo ops at attractions from the books and movies.

Forks Adventures ( allows “Twilight” enthusiasts to spend more time engulfed in the fantasy. The two-, three- and four-day tours range from $320 to $650 per person and travel down the Washington coast and Olympic Peninsula for more attractions.

The coastal town of Wilmington, N.C., is a scenic spot with clear beaches and warm weather. But look a little closer and you might see teenage heartthrobs and Hollywood actors. This town of more than 100,000 has been the setting for television shows such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” and movies like “A Walk to Remember.” Connie Nelson of the Cape Fear Convention and Visitors Bureau says 400 movies and television shows have been filmed in Wilmington, making it quite an entertainment-junkie destination.

Wilmington’s Screen Gems Studios (, the largest studio in North Carolina, currently offers tours of the “One Tree Hill” set. One-hour group tours for 20 or more are available most days of the week. The tours must be reserved one month in advance and require a non-refundable deposit of $200.

Tours by Hollywood Location Walk of Old Wilmington cover several film locations in an hour-and-a-half ( Adults are $12; seniors, students and military are $10; and children 6 and younger are free. Private group tours are available.

If one of the weddings you couldn’t miss last year was for Jim and Pam on NBC’s “The Office,” then you probably know about Scranton, Pa. The city, home to about 75,000 residents, is where the popular show is set. Students from the University of Scranton offer four-hour tours once a month. Highlights include visits to The Mall at Steamtown and Lake Scranton, lunch at Cooper’s and drinks at Poor Richard’s ( Tickets are $45 for adults, $35 for children (under 21) and include a gift bag. Remaining dates are Sept. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11.

— Laura Smith

Tastings: Great American Road Food

See original article in Groupaway Magazine here
Colorful restaurants serve up regional grub along highways and byways

By Lauren Borrelli and Laura Smith

Being cooped up in a car or bus for a long road trip makes for a restless, hungry group and fast food can get really old after a while. Let everyone stretch their legs and stop at one of the countless eateries often overlooked for those ubiquitous golden arches. Find the spots frequented by the locals, and you’re all but guaranteed a tasty, affordable meal. Tear into a talked-about sandwich at a mom-and-pop shop or a stack of flapjacks at a downtown diner. These roadside restaurants have locally inspired menus, fun decor, storied histories and a real taste of Americana. Just be sure to check on reservations beforehand.

Noank, Connecticut
Grab a seat at a picnic table and put on a bib for an outdoor, New England seafood feast. Abbott’s is famous for its hot lobster roll: a quarter pound of lobster meat drizzled with melted butter and served on a toasted bun. Connecticut Magazine tagged another choice, the New England Seafood Feast, as a “dish to try before you die.” The meal begins with clam chowder and shrimp cocktail followed by steamed mussels and lobster. And who could forget the drawn butter and coleslaw?

This family-owned heirloom hosts groups of 25 to 200 on two acres of waterfront property. Motorcoaches are a familiar sight, says owner Jerry Mears. Abbott’s may operate only 128 days out of the year, but Mears still hosts 50 to 70 group events such as rehearsal dinners, birthday parties and tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Table service and special menus (including an appetizer, choice of entrée and dessert) are offered to groups.

Seattle, Washington
A Rainy City institution since 1967, 13 Coins is named after a Peruvian tale in which a poor young man asks a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, pledging 13 coins and his undying love. This sweet story inspired a 24-hour diner known for its high-backed booths, swiveling captains’ chairs, live music and spirited staff.

The menu of late-night munchies alongside high-end entrées has more than 130 items, including everything from a ham-and-cheddar scramble for $8 to rock lobster tails for $80. Monday through Thursday, customers can order the “three for $25” special, which includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert. The most popular dinner dish, says manager Tom Gray, is “The Believer,” a breast of chicken parmigiana breaded and pan fried, then served with melted mozzarella and parmesan cheeses in a white cream sauce.

Gray hosts several large groups a week, “catering to anybody at any time,” he says. “You can show up in your robe or in a tuxedo.” There’s a second location 20 minutes away in Seatac.

Depew, New York
Outside Buffalo, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and candy store beckons customers inside with its intoxicating chocolate aroma. Started in 1953, this family-owned shop is known for its big sundaes smothered in homemade syrups, thick hot fudge, marshmallow sauce and fresh whipped cream. Available in 15 flavors and served in tall tulip glasses or banana split boats, the sundaes are $3.95 for two scoops and $6.95 for three.

Antoinette’s scoops 30 specialty sundaes, but one of its most popular sweets is sponge candy, an aerated honeycomb drenched in milk chocolate. Other candies include truffles, nonpareils, molasses pops and more. The shop easily seats 70 customers, and a second location in West Seneca is less than 20 minutes away.

Nashville, Tennessee
With its country charm, down-home cooking and barrage of famous former guests (Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Faith Hill, for example), it’s no wonder locals and tourists alike love this landmark. In 1951, Lon and Annie Loveless set up picnic tables in their front yard and sold homemade fried chicken to people driving up and down U.S. Highway 100. Now that’s real road food.

The restaurant is famous for its fried chicken, country ham and biscuits, still made using Annie’s own secret recipe. Family-style menus start at $11.95 per person for an entrée and three sides. The cafe also bakes 30 different pies, cobblers and cakes. Best of all, groups receive complimentary meals for drivers and guides.

Pagers in hand, diners can peruse through pottery, oil paintings and garden art in the adjacent Motel Shops and fill shopping bags with homemade preserves and sliced smoked meats from Loveless Hams and Jams Country Market.

Tulsa, Oklahoma
Chili-dog connoisseurs keep going back to Coney I-Lander for its Coneys — small, slow-grilled hot dogs topped with no-bean chili, raw onions and mustard. The dog’s named after New York’s famed Coney Island, and it can come “loaded” with grated cheese or cayenne pepper. Service is quick, and the food is cheap; three or four dogs are less than $10. The hot dog stand opened in 1926 and now has seven locations in and around Tulsa. “Our Coneys are something that, literally, you won’t find anywhere else,” says Kyle Cermak, general manager of the MEK Corporation, which owns the franchise. The Coney I-Lander, which can seat groups up to 50, is a tasty part of the city’s history.

Amarillo, Texas
Better bring your appetite to this showdown. If you can eat a 72-ounce steak along with a salad, baked potato, shrimp cocktail and dinner roll in less than an hour, you’ll get your $72 back — and your name on the list of champions, totaling more than 1,300 since 1962. For major bragging rights, beat the record and scarf it all down in less than 8 minutes and 52 seconds. Not that hungry? Try smaller entrées such as chicken fried steak or spare ribs with regional appetizers like fried rattlesnake and mountain oysters (and no, the latter isn’t seafood). Then top it all off with some homemade fudge.

The Big Texan has been featured on the Travel Channel and in several movies. Located off I-40, the restaurant has an unloading site for buses, and the main dining room can seat up to 600. Group tour leaders can work with the steakhouse on menu and budget, says co-owner Bobby Lee. Stop by the gift shop for a snakeskin belt and reserve a room at the adjacent Big Texan Motel with its Texas-shaped pool. Lee describes his restaurant as a perfect portrayal of the Old West, “right out of an old Clint Eastwood film.” Just look for Big Moo, the giant steer, out front.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Tennessee’s first pancake house, dating back 50 years, has people lining up for its 24 varieties of made-from-scratch pancakes. The rustic establishment is still under original management and expanded to a second location in Nashville. The sweet potato pancakes served with cinnamon cream syrup are crowd pleasers, as are the Smoky Mountain buckwheat cakes and Georgia peach crepes. Waffles, omelettes, eggs, bacon and hash browns round out the breakfast menu, while lunch features burgers, gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups and salads. Box lunches can be prepared ahead of time for a group picnic in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Like a lot of restaurants in mountainous Gatlinburg, the Pancake Pantry doesn’t have extensive parking. Many hotels and motels, however, are located within walking distance. And tour buses can park on the street until 9 a.m. For breakfast, groups of 40 to 50 should make reservations before 7:30 a.m. when crowds start to form. Bus operators and tour guides for groups of 25 or more are treated to free meals.

Odd jobs give hotels extra flair

See the original article in Groupaway Magazine here

Next time you’re at a hotel, think about all the people who make your stay a pleasant one. There’s the concierge, the chef, housekeeping, the Duck Master. Wait, what? Well, if you’re staying at a Peabody Hotel, then yes, the Duck Master and his trademark, feathered friends are an important part of the overall experience.

The Duck Master is responsible for the twice daily duck march. At 11 a.m., five ducks are led down the elevator from their “duck palace” on the roof to the fountain in the Grand Lobby in front of a crowd of up to 100 onlookers. The process is reversed at 5 p.m. when the ducks march back down the red carpet and ride up to their habitat for the night.

This ducky tradition started in 1933 when Frank Schutt, general manager of the original Peabody Memphis, and a friend placed decoy ducks in the Grand Lobby fountain as a prank.

The Peabody Orlando recently hired a new Duck Master, a coveted position considering there are only three in the world. (There’s a third Peabody in Little Rock, Ark.) Alan Villaverde, managing director of the Peabody Orlando, says he found what he was looking for in Donald Tompkins, a former AT&T employee and sea lion host at Sea World. “He must be the point person for the image and personality of the ducks,” Villaverde says.

In addition to leading the daily ceremony, the Duck Master works with guest services, conducts media interviews, and brings the animals to schools to talk about wildlife and the environment. “I’ve only been here two months and it’s been everything I thought it would be,” Tompkins says. “It’s a fun job…there’s a lot of customer interface and I enjoy talking to people.”

Of course, working with ducks isn’t the only cool job out there. At The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, two hotel chefs, who serve as guacamologists, whip up homemade guacamole and margaritas for guests every night starting at 6 p.m.

Farther south in Miami, The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach employs a tanning butler whose job is to slather on sunscreen. Armed with a custom-made holster filled with sunscreen of varying SPFs, a water mister and sunglass cleaner, the butler is paid to hang around the pool.

The Benjamin Hotel in New York offers a good night’s sleep or your money back. To guarantee this promise, the hotel employs a sleep concierge who presents a pillow menu to guests, complete with 12 different kinds of pillows to choose from. The concierge then offers advice on how best to get some shuteye.

The Westin St. Francis in San Francisco employs a coin washer of all things. In the mid-1930s, this employee cleaned the change women were using to pay for lunch so they wouldn’t get their white gloves dirty. Today, the coin washer cleans about $700 to $800 in coins a week in an old, manually operated machine.

— Laura Smith

‘Avenue Q’ gives adult twist to Muppets

Kerri Brackin (from left), Nicky, Rod and Brent Michael DiRoma in “Avenue Q,” which uses puppets and actors to tell the story of a college graduate trying to survive in New York City. Credit: Courtesy of John Daughtry/News & Record

To view the original article in Go Triad, click here

Most women can’t go without their iPhones or lipstick. Kerri Brackin doesn’t know what to do with herself when she doesn’t have a puppet with her.

Brackin is one of 12 performers creating laughs and gasps on stage for the Avenue Q 2010 tour, which will come to Greensboro Friday and Saturday.

The tour, which will travel to about 70 cities this year and will end June 26 in Ottawa, Ontario, began in September.

“Avenue Q” tells the story of Princeton, a recent college graduate who moves to New York City with big dreams and discovers the color of life through issues, including race, pornography, sexual orientation and sex itself. Puppets and humans create the adult-themed humor and stories in the production.

The show, whose characters are mirrors of the “Sesame Street” characters, began in 2003, ending its Broadway production on Sept. 13.

The main roles Brackin plays are Mrs. T (a kindergarten teacher) and one of the Bad Idea Bears, which is her favorite role. The Bad Idea Bears are Care Bearlike characters, who innocently try to manipulate people into giving in to their desires. They function as shoulder devils. Later in the performance, they convert to Scientology.

Brackin also plays the second hand to the Nicky and Trekkie Monster characters. Nicky is a parody of Ernie from “Sesame Street” and is a messy and jobless roommate. The Trekkie Monster is a Cookie Monster parody who is addicted to Internet porn instead of cookies.

“My particular part in the show is very, very puppet-heavy,” she said. “I work with literally every single puppet in the entire show.”

But performing with puppets wasn’t first nature to Brackin.

“It was the craziest thing,” she said. “It made the rehearsal process very, very different from anything I had ever done before, especially in terms of a musical theater kind of setting.”

Brackin began performing at age 8 in professional musical theater productions.

Feeling the need to “do the whole high school, college thing,” she said, Brackin took several years off to get her undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma. She attended law school for a year at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and got a master’s degree in psychology from Pace University.

She had the itch to go to New York City to begin performing again and soon was on stage. Before “Avenue Q,” she toured with the production of “Hairspray.”

When Brackin got called back to audition with “Avenue Q,” she attended a “puppet camp” and got her first experience with the fuzzy characters.

“Originally in rehearsals, it was so much about the technical aspects of it, opposed to acting, singing,” she said. “It was so much about the puppets.

“Now, it’s almost kind of become second nature. I don’t know what I do when I don’t have a puppet on my arm.”

And those puppets don’t come with family-friendly slapstick humor. “Avenue Q” is known for its profanity and adult themes.

Brackin, who comes from a conservative family, had to warn her family what to expect when they saw the production, she said.

“But honestly, I think that the majority of audiences and most of the people that come &ellipses;they enjoy it, and there’s something for everyone in the show,” she said. “It is really cool to see how the different audiences across the country react to it.”

For Brackin, the audiences are what make the show.

“We’ve had a lot of really great cities we’ve gotten to play recently, and I think that the audiences really don’t know what a huge impact they make on us as the actors on the stage,” she said.

“They’ve been fantastic, and it makes it that much more fun for us.”