AUGUSTA — The Board of Education listened to Cony High School senior Grace Kirk as she pled with members Wednesday to allow performers in the upcoming in-person production of Chizzle Wizzle to remove their masks, clashing with the rules currently set under the universal mask mandate adopted by Augusta Public Schools.

The emotional request from the Chizzle Wizzle president came as schools and communities across the country are starting to lift their mask mandates or debate their continued use amid a downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Superintendent of the Augusta Public Schools Jim Anastasio noted area superintendents were meeting with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, on Thursday to discuss what masking could look like for schools in the next couple of weeks. But at this point in time, he said, there are still “unknowns” around the future of masking in schools.

Grace Kirk, president of Chizzle Wizzle 2022 and a Cony High School senior, asks the Augusta Board of Education to allow stage performers to remove their masks during the show. Screenshot via Vimeo

Kirk, the president of the Chizzle Wizzle production, spoke during public comment and explained to the board the difficulties production has experienced and anticipates for the night of production March 15, due to the masking mandate.

Kirk said wearing masks will “greatly inhibit” the quality of the production, which this year, will be the show’s 131st year in production. Her request to the board only pertained to those on stage during production and dress rehearsal. For those backstage, masking would still be required.

“The facial expressions crucial to the roles will be non-existent, the smiles on our faces when we take our final bows and the photos of our greatest high school memory will not even have our faces in them,” Kirk said. “Not to mention, the technical difficulties around mics in masks.”


The show is split into two halves: Olio, which consists of comedy acts, dance and song and The Showcase, which consists of a full performance, solo performances and a duet. According to Producer Lindsey Morin, 70 students are in the production this year, with 50 in the Olio, 2o in chorus and four dancers.

Morin said participation is “lower than we have ever had, but the talent is there.” The goal is for the rest of the student body, who has never seen a performance before, to see it and participate next year.

Chizzle Wizzle is a community tradition and started as a fundraiser for the football team in the late 1890s. Last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the oldest running variety show in the nation was virtual and held in May.

The theme of the show this year is “Let the Games Begin.”

The dance chorus rehearses March 4, 2020, for the Chizzle Wizzle musical variety show as choreographer Kristin Goodwin Sutton watches at Cony High School in Augusta. This year’s Chizzle Wizzle president Grace Kirk asked Augusta Public Schools board to remove the mask requirement for on-stage performers. The first in-person variety show in two years is March 15.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“Through countless large-scale conflicts, Chizzle Wizzle has persevered through world wars, The Great Depression, the Civil Right’s Movement, another recession, and the list goes on, and nonetheless, the tradition has prevailed. This year is crucial to the reconstruction of Chizzle Wizzle,” Kirk said.

Per choice of production, 90% of the students involved chose to participate in pool testing for COVID-19 and on top of that, Kirk said, the school is 90% vaccinated.


Board Chairperson Amanda Olson said the board “hears” Kirk, but since the board voted to mandated universal masking in schools, it is “outside of the purview of the board to make a change, because it’s procedure.” She suggested Kirk work with administration on “some potential workarounds or things to do to make it as easy as possible.”

Superintendent Anastasio referred to the universal masking section of the CDC and the Maine Department of Education’s Standard Operating Procedures. If co-curricular activities and athletics remove their masks, the school is no longer considered a universal masking school and would have to contact-trace.

Anastasio and the principal of Cony, Kim Silsby, made the point of equity, since athletes during the winter sport season had to wear masks during competition, contrary to what most students would have liked.

“It would be nice if they (masks) go away in a week or two if they decide masks are no longer required or are optional, and there is a lot of talk about that around the county,” Anastasio said. “That would solve this problem, but there is no guarantee that would happen.”

After running through a comedy skit, producer Lindsey Morin, center, gives feedback to Grace Kirk, left, Brianna Harriman and Samuel Goldy, during
Chizzle Wizzle rehearsal Thursday in the auditorium at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. Kirk asked the Board of Education on Wednesday to consider lifting the mask mandate for on-stage performers during the production. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Per board policy, board members can not do any further research on the topic during public comment and questions for Kirk had to be asked through the Olson.

Board member Kati McCormick suggested students wear clear masks that are typically worn in situations where facial expression is paramount, but Kirk said the production has a limited budget because of the limited performances in the past two years during the pandemic.

“We weren’t able to make much revenue over ticket sales, and we still won’t with half capacity,” Kirk said. “Some of the surrounding productions with larger budgets have mics that go over the tops of their heads, over the masks, but our mics go around the side and are taped to the side of our face. … If the mic is touching skin, it will pick up feedback.”

Kirk has also started an online petition to marshal support to remove the mask requirement for Chizzle Wizzle performers, with 231 online signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

Though they are able to have a full production this year, only half the capacity of the Cony High School auditorium will be permitted, per COVID-19 guidance, which is approximately 45o people. Tickets will go on sale starting March 7 and at this time, all visitors at Cony will have to be masked. The show itself will be March 15-18 at 7 p.m. Tickets go on sale at 5:30 p.m. show nights.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story