The Acro-cats leap into a town near you, including Philly, Brooklyn and Boston

Jul 23, 2015

To Samantha Martin, cats like to have jobs, just like people.

You can see their fondness for their vocation watching members of the Acro-Cats—the performing feline troupe that’s prowling across the East Coast this month—during their off-hours at Martin’s home, she said.

“Sometimes, Sookie will just start rolling her barrel,” Martin said of the cat trained to push objects on-stage. “Now Tuna [a star of the show known for ringing bells] is touching the remote control, giving me that look like, ‘Hey, you should do some work.’ They actually ask to work. They enjoy it.”

Martin’s performing cats—all former rescues, strays and orphans, and ranging from a part-Siamese to a Tuxedo, a Calico, a Tortoiseshell and a Ginger-and-white—live at her home in Chicago.

The tour will be at The Muse Brooklyn Thursday through Sunday and in Boston on July 23. Foster cats will be at the performances for guests to adopt.

Martin, who is the “chief executive human” of the Acro-cats, acknowledges that the show they put on is not a perfect performance.

“The cats kind of make up their own stuff sometimes,” she said. “Every show is a little bit different because we never know what the cats are going to do and when they’re going to do it.”

“It’s very ad-lib, very go with the flow. People can expect to see things they’ve never seen before.”

The concept of the Acro-cats was born 10 years ago when Martin, a life-long animal lover, began taking a few trained cats into Chicago art galleries and doing small shows with basic props. Audiences went wild, she said, and she began expanding the show.

For Martin, who aspired to be an animal trainer from the age of seven, working with the Acro-cats is “a dream come true,” she said.

See below for more about how Martin puts on the show.

How do you get the cats to do the tricks?

I use clicker training. It’s all positive reinforcement where they get a treat when they do a trick.

They’re my pets, so I watch what they do around the house and I come up with things that can be made into a trick. So if the cats are climbing, I’ll come up with something that involves climbing. If the cats are scratching, I’ll come up with something that involves scratching.

The props in the show—it’s almost like their playground. They’re very unpredictable.

How do the cats feel about their work?

They enjoy it. If you look at their body language, you’ll see that they’re happy, they’re interested, they’re not towering. If somebody startles them, they can go back to their carrier.

Can people bring their dogs?

No dogs allowed.

Safety concerns

Some cat circuses, especially in Russia, have a bad reputation.

There is a boycott campaign against Moscow Cat Circus for alleged cruelty in their training methods—specifically training the cats to perform complex tricks by hurting them.

Martin stressed that the Acro-cats is a “go with the flow” performance with tricks that mostly just include performing the sorts of jumps and behavior that domestic cats typically perform at home.

A portion of the proceeds from Philly went to the Philadelphia Community Cats Council.