A ragtag band of rescue felines – known as The Amazing Acro-Cats Featuring Tuna and the Rock Cats – are coming via tour bus to Gulfport’s Catherine Hickman Theater – and at least one will be on the sax.
Or, he will be pretending to play saxophone along with other furry shenanigans from Friday, October 22 to Sunday, October 24, in front of a live audience at 5501 27th Ave. S.
Samantha Martin, the only human in the show, has spent the better part of the last 16 years training and traveling with the cats.
Martin, who describes her job as “Chief Executive Human,” has toured the Acro-Cats from her home in South Atlanta to as far as Seattle and everywhere in between.
But, as they say, herding cats ain’t easy.
“The show was a disaster at first,” Martin said. “Through trial and error, we got it. People started showing up in droves to see them perform.”
Meet the Band
Today, Martin’s eight-piece cat band – along with two rats and a chicken – “play” an assortment of instruments, jump through hoops, ride skateboards, teeter on balls and more as part of a two-hour performance that benefits Rock Cats Rescue Inc.
The band was featured on the Netflix series “Cat People,” and has received national attention as a blend of circus tricks, a comedy show and a touring rescue effort.
“Most of them have been traveling since kitten-hood, so they’re used to it,” Martin said. “They suffer some physical and mental deterioration when they’re not, which was the case during quarantine.”
Martin only “employs” rescue animals, and often brings homeless kittens on the road to find forever homes while visiting cat-loving communities.
So far, she’s found permanent residences for 305 kittens this way.
“Soon after doing this, I realized I could help cats. I can take bottle babies on the road and when we stay in one place for a few days, I find them homes,” Martin said.
The Hairy Details
Before there were cats, there were rats.
Martin began her animal training career with a troupe of rats, which she says was much more straightforward than their easily spooked counterparts.
“Rats are way easier…If someone makes a loud noise, or has a weird hairdo, the cats will be affected,” she said. “Rats are not constantly surveying their environment like cats are. It used to be a struggle to get the cats to do anything, but I could always count on the chicken.”
The chicken pulls his weight in the show by ringing a bell and walking a tightrope.
“Animals need a job, and when it’s not safe to let them outside, they have so much pent up energy,” Martin said. “With cats, it’s about taking a more complicated look at the animal and working with their natural energy.”
Though Martin got her footing training the family dog, and eventually chickens at a chicken farm in Arkansas, it was her original circus cat “Tuna” that gave her the idea to incorporate house cats.
In 2002, she began working with the show’s namesake, Tuna, who she describes as a “brilliant, but not affectionate cat.”
She taught Tuna paw work and how to ring a bell, and put together a rudimentary version of Acro-Cats with other rescue kitties.
“We had cats on horns, cats coming and going as they pleased – people were amazed,” Martin said. “I’m always worried after a rough show, but the failed tricks are the most popular. People love to laugh.”