Somewhere off the dusty Wilson L stop in Brooklyn is a warehouse venue called The Muse, and there, I saw a cat circus last Friday.
More specifically, I witnessed a purr-formance by The Amazing Acro-cats, a 14- cat Chicago-based ensemble famous for wooing audiences everywhere with feats of feline agility. Turning on lights, tight-rope walking, balancing atop balls, skateboarding, climbing – these were but some of The Acro-cat’s finest acts during the hour-long show, which also featured a drum-playing chicken named Cluck Norris and a groundhog capable of hoisting an American flag. Trick after impressive trick, the cats paused only for the occasional scratching post break.
One of only four cat shows in the country, the Acro-cats owe their success to founder and owner Samantha Martin, a rocker-chick ringmaster with decades of animal training expertise. While not on tour with her pets in the Catbus, Martin lives with the cats at home and coordinates their commercial careers. A particularly talented cat named Alley, for example, holds the Guinness World Record for the longest cat jump (six feet!). Tuna, the show’s undisputed star and a seasoned veteran of showbiz, can give high-fives to humans with his paw and ring a waiter’s bell with precise comic timing.
With the help of two assistant trainers clad in Converse, fishnets and sparkly eyeshadow (a great look, IMO), Martin guided the cats using subtle gestures, cues, and rewards – “clicker training” techniques any pet owner can employ. In response, the cats obligingly jumped through hoops, hoisted flags, and pushed shopping carts. To date, Martin and her assistants have trained 159 shelter cats this way since 2009.
Still, the Acro-cats have their limits.
“This is the part of the show we call ‘Lowering The Audience’s Expectations,’" Martin continued.
Cats have a will of their own, after all. At least once during every performance, Martin explained, a cat meanders off the stage. Meanwhile, some cats – in classic feline fashion – would spring from their carriers, eager to perform, only to get distracted basking beneath the stage lights, staring curiously into the crowd, or darting between sound equipment.
Take, for example, a foot-loving Tabby named Oz who, for several minutes, couldn’t tear his gaze from a bird flying around off stage. He took his sweet time returning to the task at hand: pawing a pinwheel.
The crowd, however, didn’t mind a bit. Three year olds to thirty year olds, everyone was applauding with the kind of fervor usually reserved for religious revivals – myself included. Many present were even sporting pairs of costume cat ears bought as souvenirs from the Acro-cats' merchandise table.
The evening culminated in a mini-concert by The Rock-Cats, with Tuna keeping the beat on cowbell. The Rock-Cats can only produce the faintest hint of a coherent melody, even while playing drums, cymbals, guitar, and chimes in unison.
But looking into Tuna’s green, intelligent eyes and across the breathless crowd, I knew the lights, music, sequins, and fanfare mattered little – the spectacle was an interspecies achievement, simply by existing. And I'm just glad I got to witness it.
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