POSTED Mon. Dec 14, 2015

Events

An Evening with the Acro-Cats
Written by CATE ROOT
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New Orleans has its own set of holiday traditions, from reveillon dinners to visiting the Roosevelt lobby’s cornucopia of light. One annual tradition, the Amazing Acro-Cats Meowy Catmas Show, celebrates whimsy, charity, and cats just being cats.

Samantha Martin, the cat wrangler and emcee, has been making New Orleans the home of the cat circus’ holiday engagement for several years. Martin and the Acro-Cats tour the country with their show, which features furry felines tightroping across the stage, jumping through hoops, and even playing instruments.

The inspiration for the show was Martin’s cat, Tuna (now known as the leader of Tuna and the Rock Cats). Martin rescued Tuna’s mother, who was pregnant and abandoned, in 2002. She found homes for the other kittens in the litter, but she kept Tuna’s mother and Tuna, who “showed such uniqueness and promise, and just enthusiasm when it came to training… People were so amazed every time I took her somewhere. She was the inspiration behind the show.”

The Acro-Cats’ first shows were in 2006, and Martin learned on her feet how to build a show around notoriously fickle felines. Martin would perform in art galleries, bringing props and between 6-8 cat performers with her.

An early lesson was, “It didn’t matter if the cats did the tricks or didn’t do the tricks.” Cat lovers come to see the spectacle, and an uncooperative cat is easily folded into the show.

Cat personality is a huge part of the show. Featured performers are introduced by name and superlative, like “Annie, the Helper,” “Jax, the Troublemaker,” “Nola, the Princess,” or “Tuna, the
Star.”

As emcee, Martin introduces the audience to the cats and provides color commentary about the tricks they are or are not performing. She learned her role on the fly.

“Cats come out, stretch, groom, and I come up with stuff to say to buy time for them to get it together… I’m just having fun with my cats. This is what I’m doing at home. Showing what my day is like in a house full of cats, interacting with them and spending time with them.”

The cats were featured on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last month. Most of the felines seemed less cooperative in the Ed Sullivan Theater than they are in their Christmas home, the Theatre at St Claude (2240 St Claude Ave). Capricious cat behavior is, however, built into the show. A common highlight for audience members is when cats wander offstage to go explore.

For the special Christmas-themed show, expect holiday music such as “A Cat in a Manger,” “Catnip Roasting on an Open Fire,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Kittens.” The stage and props will be decked in white and red. You can see a cat pushing a sleigh or jumping through a tinsel-covered wreath. That is, if the cat feels like it.

After the show, the cats hang around onstage for an extended meet-and-greet. Audience members get to say hi to the cats and take plenty of photos. (After all, who wouldn’t want their picture taken with the famous Rock Cats?)

The circus tours with anywhere between 14-18 cats, including a few fosters. They ride in a giant cat-bedecked tour bus (see below) that, according to Martin, is unfortunately unreliable. The cat krewe is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to purchase a new tour bus.

Education and cat rescue is a huge part of the Martin’s mission with the Acro-Cats. The Acro-Cats merchandise is not all cool cat T-shirts (although those do exist); Martin also sells a clicker training kit. Despite popular belief, cats are not untrainable — although they may require heavy food-bribing to actually do tricks.

Martin also partners with a local animal rescue organization at each tour stop. The Jefferson SPCA receives a portion of ticket proceeds from the Meowy Catmas show.

The Amazing Acro-Cats Meowy Catmas Show has performances through Monday, Dec. 21, at the Theatre at St. Claude. General admission tickets cost $22, with a $3 discount for children’s tickets. Premium front-row seating costs $5 extra.

Find more information about the Acro-Cats, including cat bios, performance videos, and current tour information, at CircusCats.com.

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