You’ve heard a difficult task described as “like herding cats.” Well, Samantha Martin has been doing exactly that for 10 years — not only herding them, but getting them to literally jump through hoops.
Martin is the trainer and “chief executive human” behind the Amazing Acro-Cats, a traveling cat performance troupe that calls New Orleans home to its annual “Meowy Catmas in Mew Orleans” show at the Theatre at St. Claude — playing now through Dec. 21.
Boasting the world’s only all-cat rock band, the show includes impressive feline feats, from balancing on balls, to riding skateboards, to Alley the cat demonstrating her Guinness World Record-holding “longest jump by a cat.” It also, by necessity, features a good amount of improv.
“Cats are notorious for being hard to train, but I’ve always liked a challenge,” Martin said. “Even with all the training, I know that each time a cat comes on stage, I’m at their mercy.”
It’s true, the cats can be divas. During a performance last month on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” about half the cats decided to do their own thing — stretching, grooming or running off. Martin just rolled with it, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind at all.
Self-described Acro-Cat groupie and New Orleanian Lisa Picone Love confirms that even when the cats decide to be, well, cats, it does nothing to dampen the show.
“I love them because each time it’s guaranteed that I’m going to be just giggling for over an hour, whether they do all their tricks or not,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to spend an hour laughing?”
From its inception, the show has been a hit.
“We started performing 10 years ago in art galleries around Chicago,” said Martin, who’s been training animals of all sorts since she was 10 years old. “We’d just pass the hat around after the show. People would show up in droves.”
A white cat named Tuna is the star of the show. He has the honored role of playing the cowbell in The Cat Band, the show’s finale. What started as three cats on piano, drums and guitar has expanded to include another cat on chimes, Tuna on cowbell and a chicken named Cluck Norris rocking the cymbal and tambourine.
Yes, the Acro-Cat team technically is not all cats. Other performers include a groundhog, a rat and a chicken — all animals from Martin’s previous endeavors.
“The chicken is super reliable,” Martin said. “If things aren’t going well, I can always send out the chicken to save the day.”
Martin, too, is doing all she can to save the day when it comes to homeless cats. Since 2009, the Acro-Cat foster and rescue team has found homes for 167 cats and kittens during their nationwide tours.
“Right now we’re traveling with two foster kittens hoping to find their forever homes for the holidays,” Martin said, adding that she is also running a Kickstarter campaign that ends Dec. 24 to raise money for a new bus.
Through all of her travels, Martin said New Orleans holds a special place in her heart, evidenced in part by the names of two of her cats — Jax (named for the defunct New Orleans brewery) and Nola.
“I just feel at home here,” said the Chicago-area native. “This is a real cat-loving community and a city that really embraces unusual things. We hope to keep coming back year after year.”