The performers walk across high wires, ride skateboards, repel from heights and even perform in their own touring band — and they’re all cats.

The Acro-Cats is a traveling circus of orphaned cats that performs throughout the country. The cat circus is backed by the Rock Cats, a cat-only rock band lead by Tuna, who ringleader Samantha Martin said helped spark the initial idea of the Acro-Cats.

Martin said that 10 years ago, she noticed her newly adopted cat Tuna learned tricks with ease. Martin said she trains her cats by paying attention to each feline’s general interests. If one of her cats likes to jump around and climb, Martin said she would teach it how to jump up a prop staircase or leap from one point to another. Martin said her love of training animals and her past experience with another show called the Acro-Rats inspired her to adopt more cats and begin the Acro-Cats.

Although the group is very accomplished, Martin said there are still hitches sometimes. She said each show reminds her that her felines are cats first and performers second.

“There’s so many variables: you never know what could happen or what to expect, and I’ve found that people love it, whether the cats do great or just completely diss me, come out and groom,” she said. “It’s really all on the cats’ terms, you can’t force them.”

Martin said that because the outcome of the show differs from night to night, she has learned to let the cats do what they want without worrying.

“It’s supposed to be fun for the cats, it’s supposed to be fun for us and the audience, so we’ve just kind of adopted this philosophy of ‘just go with the flow and just keep smiling no matter what happens,’” she said.

Owner of The Cell theater Dennis Gromelski said he invited the Acro-Cats to perform for their second time this year due to the show’s popularity. The act sold out 14 shows in a row when Martin visited in January.

“Whenever anyone sees it, particularly whenever someone has a cat and when they see what these cats are able to do, it completely shocks them,” Gromelski said. “I can’t even train my cat to do anything — I didn’t know cats were trainable.”

Martin said she fell in love with training animals when she learned how to train her dog at age 10.

“Everybody is born with some sort of gift; whether it’s the arts or music, it’s their gift, and I was fortunate to discover mine when I was 10,” she said.

Martin’s feline performers are all orphaned and rescued cats, and Martin said she is devoted to helping out cats in need. Martin said she adopts and trains kittens throughout their tour, searching for the next cat to join the group’s lineup. The kittens that don’t make the cut for the troupe are put up for adoption at the end of each touring cycle. Martin said a total of 87 kittens have been adopted through the Acro-Cats since she began this process three years ago. She said the skills she teaches them make the kittens even more lovable.

“I’ve adopted out kittens that I’ve taught to play the piano,” she said. “Do you think that person will ever get rid of their cat that plays the piano any time they come home? That cat is not going anywhere.”

The Acro-Cats at The Cell Theater
June 19-21
(Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday)
at 5p.m. and 8 p.m.
Ages 12 and under $12
Adults $18