It's hard to know what to expect from a cat circus, particularly if you've spent a lot of time with felines. Will the kitties perform death-defying feats, flipping through the air, eating fire, and shooting themselves out of cannons? Or will they stare at you begrudgingly for ten minutes until you offer them a bowl of food? It turns it it's kind of a combination, as proved by touring cat circus group the Acro-Cats, which spent the weekend eliciting "wows" and "awes" during nine performances in Bushwick.
The Acro-Cats belong to one Samantha Martin, a Chicago-based animal trainer who's been running the cat circus for about a decade. She deeply loves her family of acrobatic foster cats, but teaching them to perform on cue is no picnic. Indeed, she launched her circus because she felt there was a dearth of trained feline acts out there. "And then I learned why," she told a packed room at their final show at the Muse Sunday night, right before one of her prized performing kitties refused to jump onto an elevated perch on cue. Cats are cute as hell, but they also like to march to their own beat. "Dogs can be trained by tossing them tennis balls because they're suckers." Martin said. "Cats have to be paid."
Martin and her crew pay their team of a dozen or so cats (along a chicken named Cluck Norris and a groundhog named Garfield) with food and love, and thus far they've managed to teach the kitties a few tricks—at Sunday night's 8 p.m. show, the cats pushed shopping carts, leapt through hoops, rang bells, balanced on balls and strolled across tightropes, much to the delight of the adoring audience. They also licked themselves, stretched scratched against poles, ran out into the crowd, and flat-out refused to do anything, as cats are wont to do.
The show concluded with a performance by The Rock Cats, an all-feline band helmed by cowbell-wielding star Tuna—one cat played wind chimes, another handled a guitar, and Cluck Norris took charge of a gong.
The Acro-Cats aren't just here to entertain you. Martin's cats are all rescues, and she preaches the importance of fostering kittens, even offering a few Acro-Cat hangers-on up for adoption. And Martin also believes cat training is an essential tool when it comes to protecting and caring for your cat—she focuses on positive reinforcement and "clicker training" to keep her cats engaged and healthy, onstage and off.
Sadly, the Acro-Cats are heading out of town, with shows scheduled in Boston and Portland, Maine, though Martin says they'll be back—you can check their website for information about future shows.