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Sandy Journal

Final curtain call receives standing ovation for “‘Harry Potter” ’ cast, Alta View teacher

Aug 03, 2022 08:57PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was a final performance—and it was met with a standing ovation.

The roaring applause wasn’t meant alone for the student cast of “Harry Potter.” Crowds swarmed their fifth-grade teacher, Libby McShinsky, standing to the side of the stage.

McShinsky, who after decades of teaching and years of directing student plays, is retiring this summer. Many former students and parents came to give her hugs, flowers, cards, and take photos at a retirement reception that followed the show.

Never one to talk about herself, although she did say she is excited to spend time more with her husband upon retirement, McShinsky said that through the years, she has directed shows such as “The Hobbit,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Princess Bride,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Snow White,” “Peter Pan” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and it’s been a much beloved tradition amongst the students.

McShinsky looks at the class to determine which play works best. She felt that this class could perform the difficult “Harry Potter” play.

“I did ‘Harry Potter’ once before and I told myself, I’d never do it again because it’s a lot of work, but this year, it just felt right,” she said. “I thought they could do it. These students are awesome. Everybody has to have a speaking part; no one is just stage crew, and they all have to agree to it before I agree to put on a play.”

After the class agreed, they read the J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book “The Sorcerer’s Stone” the play was based on and “we completely go script and compare and contrast the difference between a script in a book and then we add things from the book that wasn't in the script,” McShinsky said, who also decked her classroom all year in Harry Potter décor.

In January, the students auditioned, reading parts from at least three characters in the script, said fifth-grader Tye Newman.

“We had to put on the whole two-hour pay with only 25 kids so everyone had to have multiple parts except for the main characters,” he said. “I got Hagrid. I’m naturally kind of loud so I thought it was very fitting. The hair was fun, but I didn’t like that it was really hot. And the hair was made out of yarn, so it was really heavy.”

His classmate, Brooklyn Quinney, said she wanted to be Petunia, but landed one of the leading roles as Hermione.

“It’s been a very, very fun role to play,” she said in her first-ever acting role. “I love Harry Potter. It's like, one of my favorite things. It's mostly mystery, and I just love mystery things.”

During the months leading up to the performance, McShinsky said they learned skills they may not have learned otherwise, such as stage presence.

“They learn how to project their voice because there's no microphones at Alta View, and they have to have eye contact with the audience. They learn how to have some humor so that they figure out what works for an audience to laugh. ‘Harry Potter’ is a tricky one because the scenes change often and it’s a lot of memorizing, but we still want to engage the audience and have fun,” she said.

Tye said they were able to pull it off because they had the support of their teacher, who has been Alta View’s teacher of the year and received Jordan Credit Union’s “Project 100” program for teaching excellence during her tenure.

“She is a really good teacher. She taught us how to act, where to be, how to be that person (character) and what to do when we're not on stage. It took a lot of effort on her part, but the verdict was incredible,” he said. “I was really impressed that she could show us how to act on stage, but she still managed to squeeze in a bunch of learning to get us ready for the next grade.”

The dual immersion Spanish classmates said they’d manage to get in about an hour of rehearsal amongst their reading, math, history and other subjects.

Tye said “it’s apparent that she really likes the students. She kind of helps us with our individual needs. She kind of focuses on what we're struggling on and makes it so it doesn't seem as bad.”

In 2015, McShinsky was on the forefront of Canyons School District’s technology, volunteering as the school’s tech club adviser, introducing a green screen to her students and securing a $4,300 grant for iPads for her students so they could learn to use iMovie to act out story problems so they could learn them better.

“She’s always innovative, engaging and making learning fun. She always says ‘this is going to be really boring, but I'm going to try to make it fun’—and she does,” Brooklyn said.

Tye agrees: “If there was such a thing as a fun class, she would have aced that like five billion years ago.”

Brooklyn said that after months of rehearsing, the excitement of the play drawing near built when they tried on their costumes.

“When we got our costumes, we just put them on and actually acted with our costumes on. It made us feel that we were our characters more,” she said, but also said with three layers under her robe and “it was boiling hot.”

Tye said he also had a pillow under his shirt as well as a heavy trench coat and his heavy beard.

“Everyone was struggling during dress rehearsal and the heat made it really difficult to focus and concentrate. Like backstage, the letter shooter was going, and we used it as a fan. Every time I went off stage, I had to take my beard off to keep me from overheating,” he said.

The play was double cast so both dual immersion classes had three performances. Parent performances filled and had several patrons standing though the entirety of the show, which included humorous tidbits and funny songs that kept the story moving.

After the excitement of the play was over, Brooklyn was still on a high, but a bit sad.

“Overall, the whole play was just like the best,” she said. “But on Wednesday, we all came back to school and we felt like, a part of us was missing without the play. It’s definitely one of my favorite elementary school memories and we learned we can do stressful and hard things. We're so glad we did it. Ms. McShinsky is the best teacher. She gives life to the class.”

Tye adds: “She’s the life and soul of the play and the classroom. She makes everything special and fun. It’s been great to have a teacher who’s positive and really happy. We can pull off really funny things and we really kind of have a knack of finding a way to make her laugh and she makes us laugh so learning is fun.”

McShinsky said for her, the best part of teaching is seeing the student growth, especially now with the play. "They've been able to do something hard. Students can do hard things. You just have to let them do it,” she said. “I just like the kids and watching them grow up.”

Was this her favorite production? Like every good teacher and parent, she doesn’t say, but instead, changed the question.

“Which one is most exhausting? ‘Harry Potter,’ McShinsky said. Then added: “It’s a good one to go out on although the fourth-graders aren’t happy I’m retiring.”