A troupe of highly talented felines will be walking tightropes, riding skateboards, balancing on rolling balls, and performing in an all-cat band this weekend when the Amazing Acro-Cats roll into town. Led by “chief human” Samantha Martin, the group has toured around the country. They even had a spot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, though Martin admits the live television appearance was not the cats’ best showing.
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
$23; $33 VIP
“They decided not to perform well that day,” Martin says. Only two cats came out of their cages. “It wasn’t the ship coming in that I was planning.”
In fact, she ranks the Colbert appearance as the second most humiliating moment since they formed 12 years ago. The first was in Branson, Missouri, when they were first starting out. “We were very young, we were very new. We didn’t have good costumes or stage presence,” she says. “We just really weren’t ready for that level.”
The cats, she says, picked up the stress from the handlers and the disappointment from the crowd. “It’s one of those moments where I ask myself, ‘Can I recover from this?'”
They regrouped, learned from their mistakes, and kept smiling.
Martin knew she wanted to be an animal trainer since she was 7 years old. “I trained the family dog when I was 12,” she says. She worked with rats and other rodents, starting at age 16. “I learned what great pets they were,” she says. She started her first company when she moved to Chicago, and trained rats.
Her Acro-Rats troupe was a huge success with a cult following, though they were limited in the venues they could play in because the animals are small and hard to see. “I discovered I couldn’t make a living on just rats,” Martin says.
So she started a private zoo, where she kept small exotic animals, and traveled to libraries and schools. Then she decided to focus on training animals, and began touring in 2008.
Martin believes training is good for animals. “They need enrichment,” she says. “If they aren’t in the wild, they need to do something with their creativity.”
The hour-long show at In the Heart of the Beast will include a training demonstration with rolling barrels, high wires, hoops, and more, plus a grand finale with a live band starring Tuna the cat.
All the cats in the show are Martin’s own personal pets who live with her. She watches how they behave at home, and uses their talents. All the cats are former orphans, rescues, and strays, and the Acro-Cats also has a foster program. Four kittens perform with the group, and are available for adoption after a background check.
Cats are not the easiest animals to train. “Dogs are more easy to please,” she says. “They will work for a tennis ball and a promise.” Cats, on the other hand, want to know what is in it for them. “They won’t work for free,” she says. So Martin gets treats for them like chicken livers and ahi tuna as their big jackpot.
There’s no punishment involved, and Martin says what makes the show fun is that it's based on the mood of the cats and the audience. “We have to go with the flow,” she says.
Martin hopes the crowd leaves with a desire to better bond with their cats. “Cats end up at a shelter because people haven’t built a relationship with their cat.”
IF YOU GO:
Minneapolis Meows with the Amazing Acro-Cats
7 p.m. Thursday trhough Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday; 7 p.m. Monday
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre
1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis