Acro-Rats Weren't So Successful
Acrobat cats — who rock side gigs with a tambourine chicken — take over SuperHappy Fun Land
Touring the southeast in their trademark Catmobile, feline performance group The Acro-Cats rolled into Houston Thursday night for a five-performance stint at Super Happy Fun Land. Last night's opening show drew around 80 people and attendence is expected to remain high (by the small venue's standards) throughout the weekend.
“We have a total of 13 cats, plus two kittens, five rats, a groundhog, and two chickens — one of which is currently in training,” explains animal trainer Samantha Martin, the founder of the Acro-Cats and the Chicago-based private zoo, Amazing Animals.
“We travel with a dog too, but he doesn’t perform in the show,” she laughs. “Honestly, I couldn’t handle working with 13 dogs. They’re so noisy compared to cats.”
With a degree in animal husbandry, Martin started training animals 25 years ago when she creating her first show, The Amazing Acro-Rats.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a rats to riches story,” she jokes about her early career. “Our only work even came from occasional exterminator commercials and low-budget horror movies.”
“Musically, they’re really not very good,” Martin says of the cat band. “At best you could basically call it free jazz — it’s very experimental.”
Expanding operations to include more species and a USDA-approved zoo, she grew her animal business to include an educational component, which became her central focus for nearly two decades.
Seven years ago, however, Martin found she missed her animal training work and developed a new performance group, The Acro-Cats. In 2008, she decided to take the show on the road, offering a program that features cats climbing ropes, balancing on high wires, pushing shopping carts and running through a feline-sized agility course. Partner Lynsi Long joined the tour two years ago to assist with the increasingly elaborate performances.
“Cats are very challenging to train,” Martin says. “Actually, our regular cat shows grew out of the need to work with the animals constantly. They’re very independent and have to work all the time or they forget.”
One of only four “cat shows” in the United States, the Acro-Cats tour the country throughout much of the year, taking time off for films and commercial work. Martin’s animal actors currently can be seen on boxes of Tidy Cats litter.
The show closes with an exclusive performance from the Tuna and the Rock-cats, a five-piece group featuring four feline musicians on keyboards, guitars and drums as well as a chicken on tambourines and cymbals.
“Musically, they’re really not very good,” Martin says. “At best you could basically call it free jazz — it’s very experimental.”
While the Acro-Cats are a family-friendly group, she explains that their audiences are typically made up of cat-loving adults (about 70 percent of the crowd, Martin estimates). The hour-long performances might make younger kids “a little fidgety,” no matter how exciting a cat riding a skateboard might be.
Martin and her cats perform Friday at 8 p.m. at the East End's Super Happy Fun Land (3801 Polk). They will also perform on Saturday at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. with a final show on Sunday at 3 p.m.