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A little show of their own, horses set stage for safety at Albany Theatre

By   /   September 5, 2009  /   Comments

Going on three decades, Joe Monzie and Sandy McDonald have kept watch over the parking areas and grounds at Theatre Albany during performances. The two have served in their “role” as the organization’s mounted security officers since the early 1980s, first as members of the Albany Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, then as private individuals, upon retirement.

About 10 years ago, cutbacks, and changes in APD policy led to the decision to no longer provide security to the theatre because it was a privately chartered, non-profit organization, and not technically a part of city services. But the relationship between the two and Albany’s theatre-going community had been well established, so Monzie and McDonald opted continue offering the service once retired. It’s been a good thing for all concerned ever since.

Artistic Managing Director Mark Costello says the mounted patrol is a welcomed and valuable part of each show, and has come to be a real fixture at Theatre Albany.

“Our audiences take a lot of comfort in knowing they are out there. Joe and Sandy are very helpful,” said Costello, “controlling traffic so folks can cross Pine, getting to and from their vehicles safely.” It’s a task that they enjoy doing, and they are sincerely appreciated for doing it.

The pair certainly provide a valued service, but along with the added security and peace of mind that comes with two trained riders, and former police officers on horseback, is their contribution to the aesthetics of the event. Their own easygoing and personable demeanor, atop their steady steeds, sets a family-friendly and casual Southern tone, as audiences approach the antibellum home at 514 Pine Ave., that is Theatre Albany. It’s a little show of its own, even before you get inside.

McDonald says their horses understand full well when it’s time to go to work. They arrive about one hour before curtain in the back of the theatre where they are bridled, saddled, and brushed out, almost like actors themselves, in preparation for their big entrance. As they stride around to the front of the building, their gate takes on a certain boldness and certainty. They’ve been here for countless performances, they know the ropes, and they know exactly what to do.

“They really come to life”, says McDonald, “like, Oh, it’s showtime!” As theatre guests arrive, they cannot help but be impressed by the steady, confident animals, standing watch over the scene.

“They’re great!” exclaimed long-time Theatre Albany supporter, Dr. Charles Gillespie, as he walked up toward Sandy astride Honeybelle, a 23 year old mare, and retired veteran of APD herself. “Joe and Sandy aren’t bad either!” added Gillespie.

It’s obvious Honeybelle enjoys the attention, as she slightly steps forward, nodding her head as if to say, “Good to see you! Enjoy the show!” The job is as much public relations as it is security for McDonald and Monzie, and their animals seem to know that.

Theatre Albany, the city’s oldest cultural institution and one the highest-rated community theatres in the state, owes a lot of its success to its very small but dedicated staff, longtime patrons and supporters, wonderfully gifted performers, dedicated volunteers, and folks like Monzie and McDonald. They, too, understand that the show must go on.

LonMcNeil 09Written by Lon McNeil. Mr. McNeil is an Albany independent marketing consultant. Find him online at AlbanyOnPoint.

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