Fall 2012 Magazine

Cat Chat

The Amazing Acro-Cats and the Rock Cats

By Nancy Marano

Outside the temperature is 100 on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But inside Albuquerque's Cell Theatre it's cool - in every sense. The lights dim and audience expectation runs high. As the stage lights come up, a groundhog scuttles onto the stage, turns on a red light and opens a placard saying, "The show is starting." He then exits stage left. The magic continues for the next hour and a half.

Cats patiently wait in their carriers watching for their cue to perform. Weave poles, fringed pedestals, barrels, hurdles, a tightrope, and rappelling rope fill the stage. All these props are used for death defying stunts performed with abandon by the Acro-Cats. Each cat races from his carrier to perform his trick. He might run back and forth at top speed through the weave poles or do a balancing act on the tightrope. At times a cat does his own unscheduled trick and takes off into the audience. The show continues until the cat decides to come back to the stage. The day I saw the show Buggles and Jax decided to chase each other through the audience much to the spectator's amusement.

Samantha Martin, ring leader of the Acro-Cats, brings on Oz, a young, gray, tabby cat, who jumps through a hoop covered with tissue paper. He pokes a hole through the tissue with his foot then leaps through the opening. Another cat runs up a pole and jumps down onto Martin's waiting shoulder. Martin asks, "Who is Number 1?" and Oz raises his paw. Another cat pushes a barrel across the stage.

Several cages full of kittens Martin is fostering for the Princeton Animal Shelter in Illinois are waiting in the wings. These kittens are just beginning to learn tricks and routines. On this day they form a pyramid by climbing on strategically placed pails. At first it is chaotic with kittens spilling all over the stage and not paying attention to what they are supposed to do. Through all the chaos, Martin keeps smiling and talking to them and the audience. She points to where she wants the kittens to go. Suddenly, as if by magic, you see them get the idea and all the kittens sit on their designated pails forming a beautiful kitten pyramid. The audience claps enthusiastically. Of course, the applause might be helped along by the "Applause" sign displayed as another cat pulls on a cord to open the placard.

Carriers are left open during the show so a cat can return to his safe place if he gets the vapors from the activity on stage or just doesn't feel like performing. Each cat has learned to return to its carrier when a whistle blows. This is a safety measure as well as a trick. Martin points out that this is something everybody can teach their own cats. How helpful would it be to get your cats to actually run into their carriers quickly and safely if the need arose?

Meanwhile on stage a bowling contest is in progress between Tuna, the show's cat diva, and Heniana, the chicken. It seems to be a tie with bowling pins flying in all directions as the balls strike them. To pick a winner, there is a bell ringing contest as the tie breaker. Heni rings a bell hung in the replica of a church steeple and Tuna hits a ringer. At the end, Tuna is declared the winner by the cat-loving audience.

After the cat acrobatic feats, it is time for the Rock Cats to perform their magic on guitar, drum, synthesizer, cymbal and cowbell. "The Rock Cats are all related. They are the Partridge Family of cats," Martin said.

Tuna sets the beat on the cowbell. Pinky picks up the rhythm on the guitar, Nue jumps in on the synthesizer and Dakota wails on the drums. Heniana adds the tinkle of cymbals to this musical blend while Tuna continues the cowbell beat. After all you can never have too much cowbell. The audience shows its appreciation for these Rock Cats with long applause and generosity in the tip jar which Tuna points out to them.

Following the band's performance, the audience is invited to meet Pudge and the kittens who are up for adoption. Pudge, a long-haired, gray cat, enjoys being petted so she also goes to the Meet and Greet. The kittens are available for adoption if someone in the audience falls in love with one of them and meets Martin's qualifications.

Like any rock band the Acro-Cats tour several months a year in a renovated RV. The outside of the van sports pictures of The Rock Cats and felines in acrobatic poses. It would be difficult to miss them coming to your town. The current tour has seen some problems with the RV since the floor is falling out. But perhaps this will lead to a new touring bus. Following the summer tour, the ensemble will be back home in Chicago, their home base.

Martin may not look like your typical orchestra conductor dressed in her all black and purple cat costume with snazzy cat ears, but she serves as the human conductor, ringmaster and general manager of this touring feline troupe of performers. She may have the title of leader but it's obvious the cats are running the show and having fun doing it. Performing is in these cats' blood.

Get an idea of the performance at www.circuscats.com. Show schedules are listed on the website. If the show comes anywhere near you, go to see them. It's a lovely way to spend some time and you will be amazed. I guarantee it.

(I'm ending this review on a sad note. On September 1, 2012 The Rock Cats lost their guitarist Pinky. Pinky was a cancer survivor. Unfortunately, the cancer returned and this time she didn't make it. All Rock Cat fans feel the loss of such a brave trouper. R.I.P. PINKY)

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by three cats, Sammy, Callie and Max. Callie and Max are new additions to the family. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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