Chapel Hill tradition screening “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” continues despite Covid-19 pandemic.

By Maeve Sheehey

Fourth-grader Isabel Trumbull wracked her brain for a word that began with the prefix, trans. She was with her reading tutor, playing a game where all the kids had to come up with a different word. One of her classmates had already said “transform” and another said “transportation,” so Isabel said the first thing she could think of: 


Her tutor looked uncomfortable. “Um, can you think of another?” she asked. 

“Transsexual?” Isabel asked. 

“OK, let’s give it one more shot,” the tutor said. 

Isabel heard her mom laughing in the waiting room and wondered what she did wrong. Uncertainly, she tried out the last word she could think of: “Transylvania?” 

Anyone who’s seen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” would recognize the grouping of these words from the song, “Sweet Transvestite,” performed by Tim Curry in the original 1975 film. In a normal year, before the pandemic, people would dress up in fishnet stockings and corsets to celebrate the cult classic on Halloween night. For Isabel, now a UNC alumna, the tradition began before she was even old enough to be allowed out that late. 

She remembers sitting on her family’s old green couch to watch the movie when she was about four years old. In fact, it’s the first movie she remembers ever watching. Despite the ample sexual content, the bulk of it was innuendo that went over her head — besides, it wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen while selling lemonade at the gay pride parade in Boystown, Chicago.  

“The men in lingerie were more covered up than the assless chaps that were at pride parade every summer,” she said. 

Isabel’s introduction to “Rocky Horror” is not the norm, she’s quick to say, though her enthusiasm for the movie is shared by many. Most fans of the cult classic find it later in life, when they’re old enough to attend the raucous Halloween showings. One such spectacle happens each year at the Varsity Theatre in Chapel Hill, with a shadow cast performance — where actors put on the show right in front of the movie screen — by UNC’s Pauper Players

A horde of students traditionally mobs the area outside the Varsity before it opens, costumes including lingerie, wigs, suspenders and a general lack of clothing. This year on Halloween, the Varsity sat desolate, as it has since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

UNC students were left without an outlet for their fishnet stockings, and the Pauper Players canceled its 2020 production — but that doesn’t mean “Rocky Horror” went unrecognized. Through home productions, virtual commemorations and personal viewings, the “Rocky” spirit lived on in Chapel Hill this Halloween. 

Finding acceptance through art. 

For UNC senior Kathryn Brown, “Rocky Horror” has been part of life since she was cast in the Pauper Players production her first year in college. She played Dr. Frank-N-Furter, arguably the most iconic role in the film. And though Dr. Frank is typically the least clothed person on the stage, Kathryn said she was the most — that is, at the beginning of the show. 

Kathryn stripped off layers with each song when she felt comfortable. As a plus-sized woman, she didn’t always feel like she could be seen as sexy in the entertainment industry, a world that almost exclusively values a size zero. But during that last number, “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” she stared down the audience, scantily clad, and felt safe in her body for the first time while onstage. 

For Kathryn, “Rocky Horror” is about acceptance — body acceptance, queer acceptance and the acceptance of all things weird. 

“It’s all about communion,” she said. “Like, not in a crisp, Catholic sense — but communion in this merging of energies, this sharing in a safe space, in expressing yourself and loving yourself and loving the people you’re around.” 

A new take on a UNC tradition. 

Even though the pandemic foiled Kathryn’s plans of being involved in a “Rocky Horror” production this year, she wasn’t ready to give up the tradition. That’s why she and her housemates, also self-described theater nerds, projected the movie on the side of their house and dressed up for the occasion. 

Though Kathryn wanted to reprise her role as Dr. Frank, a housemate thought she deserved a turn in the corset — and “Rocky Horror” is, first and foremost, about everyone getting a chance to be whoever they want for a night. And so, Kathryn utilized her already-hot-pink hair to dress up as Magenta, instead.

Though members of the UNC Pauper Players could not take the stage at the Varsity to act out “Rocky Horror” on Halloween night, the student theater company couldn’t let the holiday pass with no mention of the movie. So, the group put together a music video, featuring former cast members of all different graduating classes — not just current UNC students. 

The video was set to “Time Warp,” one of the most well-known “Rocky Horror” songs. Members dressed up in makeshift costumes and danced around their houses to the directions in the movie: a jump  to the left, a step to the right, hands on the hips, knees in and, of course, a pelvic thrust. 

Pauper Players Executive Director Maria Cade is used to an interactive show that draws the audience to call out lines at the screen and put newspapers on their heads when it rains in the movie. 

“It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in any other form of theater,” she said. 

Even though this year wasn’t quite the same, Maria was glad the company got to celebrate the message of self-acceptance and expression that lies in the movie. After all, she said, it is a “Chapel Hill staple.” 

A celebration of self amid a pandemic. 

Despite early exposure to the movie in Chicago, Isabel saw her first live production of “Rocky Horror” in Chapel Hill. She’d always wanted to go growing up, but there was a curfew for kids out after 11 p.m. on weekends. Plus, as she says, it isn’t the kind of thing you want to go to with your parents — even cool, pro-”Rocky” parents like hers. 

So, her first year of college, she lined up outside the theater on a cold October night, dressed as Rocky in gold shorts and Doc Martens and painted-on abs. She knew the movie, her favorite of all time, well enough to quote it. But there was nothing like seeing it in a community for the first time. 

To celebrate in 2020, Isabel pulled out the gold shorts to wear for the first time since that October night, even though her body “freshman year of college after being a varsity athlete for four years is very different than being in the workforce for a year in quarantine.” 

Dressed as Rocky once again, Isabel sat in her living room and put the movie on. It wasn’t a shadow cast, but she still knew all the lines to shout at the screen. Watching “Rocky Horror” on her own wasn’t the full experience, but it brought her back to throwing toast at the screen in a crowded theater in college, and cuddling up with her parents to watch for the first time at age four. 

“Rocky Horror” is about community for Isabel, and acceptance for Kathryn, and self-expression for Maria. But really, for all of them, it’s about a night of celebrating and being themselves. 

They weren’t going to let the pandemic stop them from celebrating the cult classic that means so much to them. And until live showings of “Rocky Horror” can resume again, they’ll be waiting in antici… pation. 

Edited by Makenna Smith

Burmese refugee and Carolina Inn caretaker gives back to the community

By Britney Nguyen

The antique wooden and marble floors of The Carolina Inn wouldn’t gleam if not for Simon Lamh.

As a caretaker of the building, Lamh waxes and buffs the floors, a job that allows him to show his appreciation for the almost 100-year-old building.

After he was furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lamh was able to use these skills to show his appreciation for another historical building, and for a community that supported him as a newly arrived Chin refugee from Burma in the United States.

For the past 6 years, Lamh spent an evening, every six months, cleaning, waxing, drying and buffing the hardwood floors in the Martin Luther King Community Room at University Baptist Church (UBC) in Chapel Hill.

Lamh was always limited from fully repairing the floors and fixing other parts of the room because it was often used as a communal gathering space. When COVID-19 forced UBC to cancel services and activities at the church and the community center, Lamh had the opportunity to repair the rest of the MLK Community Room.

Through a translator who helped him with his English, Lamh said he wanted to do the repairs because the church community had offered to let him use the room for free to host gatherings for the Chin Christian Fellowship group.

Lamh and his wife, Dim Lam Cing, are full members of UBC and lead 20 other Chin refugee families who are also church members. Lamh’s involvement with UBC started when he first settled in the U.S. and met another refugee from Burma.

A long journey.

For almost ten years, Lamh has lived in the U.S. with his wife and their three children, two of whom were born in the country. Before he resettled as a refugee in the U.S., he lived in Malaysia as a Chin refugee from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, the name Lamh uses when referring to his homeland. Lamh grew up as a Christian in the Tedim Township Khuasak Village in the Chin state of Burma.

“There are many reasons why I left the country,” Lamh said through a translator. “There were no jobs, no work and there were many things we were being forced to do.”

It was better to work outside of Burma and better to leave the country. It was also difficult to be a Christian.

“Christians cannot build churches legally all over the country and there are many limitations,” he said. “Before, there were many church buildings, but the government confiscated them to use as school buildings.”

In 2007, Lamh left Burma for Malaysia.

“The reason why I chose Malaysia is that it is a place where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was taking refugees and accepting refugee registration,” Lamh said.

Lamh paid an agent to smuggle him out of Burma. He was carried in the trunk of a truck with two other people. He risked being arrested like many people who tried to leave before him because he left this way.

“If you leave one country into another country without a proper way, you cannot return if you like,” Lamh said.

Lamh left his wife behind when he left Burma. Eventually he asked her to join him in Malaysia when he could settle there.

For 18 months, Lamh stayed at Welcome Community Home, which he described as a non-governmental organization in Malaysia. He had to wait here to register for refugee resettlement through UNHCR. While there, Lamh worked in restaurants, in construction and did truck driving.

“In the rainy season, it’s not good to drive, so I didn’t work during the rainy season,” Lamh said.

After his wife joined him, they had to go through an interview with the UNHCR to explain their situation and why they should be considered refugees.

Lamh explained that living conditions in Burma were very difficult. He said he had to do forced labor like repairing roads. There was a military camp close to where he lived, and Lamh said the military would force him and other people from his town to go out and gather bamboo for them.

Lamh said the village chief and community leaders collected money by force, especially when someone of a higher government rank was visiting. The police also collected money.

When Lamh and his wife were informed that their application was accepted, they waited for UNHCR to continue their resettlement process.

“From there, they sent us to North Carolina, we didn’t choose the place,” Lamh said. “I just decided wherever they sent us, I will stay there until I die.”

New beginnings in North Carolina.

Lamh and his wife arrived at Oak Creek Village, an apartment complex in Durham, in 2011 with their daughter, Cingthian Muang Lamh, who was born in Malaysia just prior to their arrival in the United States.

Lamh got to know two other refugees living in Chapel Hill who told him about University Baptist Church. One of the refugees was also from Burma and had also gone through Malaysia to be resettled.

“They told me I would do very good if I got enrolled as soon as possible,” Lamh said.

Lamh and his wife were mostly aided by case workers from a resettlement agency, but after Lamh and his wife joined UBC, church members in the community helped the family by giving them clothes and furniture.

When he arrived in the United States, Lamh wanted to work in farming or gardening. He applied to different jobs at The Carolina Inn and at a 30-acre farm in Raleigh.

“I got both jobs but I was advised that The Carolina Inn would be a better option,” Lamh said.

Lamh started working as a caretaker of the building at The Carolina Inn in 2013. Before he got his job at The Carolina Inn, Lamh worked at the Hampton Inn where he would have to walk everyday.

“It was not easy, especially in winter,” Lamh said. “It took about an hour to get home.”

Giving back to the community.

Lamh just wanted to do something to thank the community that helped his family.

“I don’t get involved here and there socially, only at church,” Lamh said. “I consider religion a big part of my life even when I cannot go to church.”

After 7 years at The Carolina Inn, Lamh was furloughed from his caretaking job because of COVID-19. Lamh finally had the time to fully restore the MLK Community Room at UBC.

He recruited a fellow Carolina Inn worker, Saw Ka Iu, also from Burma, to help him with the repairs.

For weeks, the two men stripped the peeling plaster off of the walls and floors. Lamh purchased a professional cleaning and buffing machine to clean all the carpets in the 5,000-square foot room. He washed the windows and cleaned the HVAC vents.

In a letter to the UBC congregation, DeWanna Banks, one of the members of the church who helped Lamh’s family when they resettled in the U.S., wrote, “The Lamh family has chosen to reinvest the struggle and suffering they endured on their pilgrimage to Chapel Hill in the beautiful restoration of a community icon.”

Edited by Makenna Smith

Three UNC students juggle life in quarantine, after being tested for COVID-19

By Anne Tate

After UNC-Chapel Hill first-year student Fiona Wallace learned her roommate at Granville Towers tested positive for COVID-19, she experienced a chaotic 24 hours of quick decisions, poor communication and increasing uncertainty.

Fiona spent over two hours in the coronavirus testing line at Campus Health Services after she frantically made an appointment for a COVID-19 test. Students waited for so long that staff brought them water.

When Fiona reached the front of the line after her first hour of waiting, she was redirected to the regular Campus Health entrance. She was not the only one turned away from the designated coronavirus testing line.

“I figured I’d go somewhere separate from the kids going to their physical therapy appointments,” Fiona said.

The transition into on-campus quarantine.

That same day, before receiving her results, Fiona stripped her bed and packed as much as she could carry – two weeks’ worth of clothes, food, bedding and school supplies – and moved to Craige North Residence Hall, UNC’s on-campus quarantine dorm.

After she realized UNC only provided three, 16-ounce bottles of water a day, Fiona’s roommate dropped off her Brita filter.

For Fiona, the quarantine dorms offered little more comfort than the pack of “Lunch To-Go” tuna UNC provided for dinner. The hallways were filled with an eerie silence, void of people. Every afternoon, she had to guess when her three meals for the day were left outside of her door – no one ever knocked. She showered twice a day, just for fun. Fiona was lonely; she spent a lot of time looking out the window at people walking by on the street below.

Occasionally, the silence was broken.

“Sometimes, you could hear people crying,” she said.

One day, Fiona heard voices outside of her door. She looked through the peephole and saw a group of staff dressed in hazmat suits cleaning out the room across the hall. She felt like people were afraid of her, and she didn’t even know if she had COVID-19 yet.

Another time, a friend of Fiona’s, who was also quarantined in Craige North, developed a 101-degree fever. He had no medicine, so she left a Tylenol wrapped in a paper towel outside of his door.

Fiona had no human interaction for four days – and it would have been 14 if she hadn’t tested negative. 

“If I kept doing that, my mental health would have gotten so much worse,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t be alone like this.’”

Fiona knows students who actively avoided the quarantine dorms.

“I know so many people in Granville who definitely had symptoms, but their suitemates didn’t want them to get tested because they didn’t want to get sent home or moved,” she said. “Some people were mad at my roommate for getting tested.”

Fiona thinks there are more cases than what’s been reported because some people are ignoring their symptoms and not going to Campus Health.

A UNC senior felt similarly – she didn’t trust UNC to provide adequate food or psychological care in the quarantine dorms.

When she went to Campus Health for a COVID-19 test, she lied and said that she had her own bathroom so she could quarantine in her off-campus house.

“I was so afraid to get sent to the quarantine dorms,” she said. “I heard someone got a pack of edamame as a meal.”

A freshman has a nomadic first month at UNC.

First-year Lucas Schroeder took the P2P to Craige North after being tested for COVID-19 at Campus Health. After two days in quarantine, he received his results – positive. That day, he moved to Parker Residence Hall, UNC’s on-campus isolation dorm.

“It was frustrating to repack all of my stuff and strip the bed and move again. It was a hassle and felt kind of pointless,” Lucas said. “I wasn’t even in contact with anyone in Craige.”

After his second move, Lucas’s strategy to pass time was to sleep the hours away. He woke up at 1 p.m. every day, did schoolwork, watched movies and went downstairs to pick up his food bag, labeled with his room number. He rarely saw anyone.

“I want to be at UNC, and it’s been a great time up until I got sick,” he said. “But I can’t say I’m too surprised that this is how it went. I think we all knew that when we signed up, so I’m not upset at UNC. I’m more upset that we’re still handling COVID as a society.”

After his isolation, Lucas plans to go home to Charlotte for a week and then move to Ocean Isle Beach with his friend. When he gets to his final destination, he will have moved five times in the first month of his freshman year.

Designated quarantine space becomes limited at UNC. 

To add to the confusion of the coronavirus procedures, and feelings of isolation, UNC sent sophomore Claire Perry to an off-campus hotel to quarantine.

When UNC informed Claire she’d be moving to a hotel, she was concerned – she said it seemed weird.

“I had been following the dashboard and knew that technically it said they had spots left in isolation and quarantine,” Claire said. “I was like, wow. Obviously, they’re sending me to a hotel because they don’t have spots left or they’re reserving a couple spots for some reason.”

After checking in at the hotel front desk, she was led to a conference room and given one day’s worth of food. She said there were a lot of people around who weren’t students. Her quarantine was among regular hotel patrons.

For three days, Claire binged Avatar: The Last Airbender, was not productive, and only left her room once to go to the ice machine. She packed her own food because she saw posts on the UNC Reddit page about the quarantine meals. One of her few interactions was with an employee at the hotel front desk – she called to tell him UNC forgot to deliver her meals that day. Claire said she felt isolated and lonely, but that she felt lucky for her outside resources and support.

Above all, she was scared of what would happen if she had the virus.

“I was trying to distract myself,” she said. “I didn’t want to think about it because I have asthma and knew that if the test was positive, I could have a really bad experience. While trying not to think about it, I tried not to think about anything.”

Claire updated a thread on Twitter about her quarantine experiences throughout her stay. She wanted to use her platform to advocate for herself, and other students.

“It was kind of an impulse,” she said. “It ended up getting a lot more reception than I thought it would, which was really overwhelming.”

After getting the call that her results were negative, Claire left her quarantine room and was faced with an unmasked man in the elevator. He told her she could get in. Claire said she’d wait for the next one.

When Claire reflected on her experience, she felt like most of UNC’s coronavirus efforts were geared toward damage control – and that shouldn’t have been the approach. She thinks things may have been different if UNC wasn’t one of the first universities to reopen.

“We were a leader in all the wrong ways,” she said.

Edited by Makenna Smith