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Get a front row seat to how a group of cousins experienced separation during COVID-19. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images.
Get a front row seat to how a group of cousins experienced separation during COVID-19. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images.

‘¿Que lo Que?’ A pandemic audio adventure coming to WhatsApp

The passion project from playwright Erlina Ortiz will allow listeners to follow a story of bilingual cousins navigating COVID-19.

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Starting in early November, WhatsApp users will be able to go on a unique storytelling audio experience, through ¿Que lo Que?, the latest passion project of Dominican-American playwright, Erlina Ortiz. 

Ortiz studied theater at Temple University and upon graduation, she joined the newly-formed Power Street Theatre as an artist. But she soon realized that she had more to offer than just her acting skills, and started to dabble in playwriting. 

“Being on stage is really fun and exciting and a high. But there’s just something a little bit different about seeing all these people reacting to something you wrote about,” Ortiz told AL DÍA.

Many of her plays have characters that are Latino, multicultural or come from an immigrant background, and  ¿Que lo Que? is no different. 

Being a playwright has allowed Ortiz to combine two worlds that she always viewed as separate: Latino culture and theater. 

“So seeing those worlds come together, I was like, ‘all right this, I need to keep doing this, and I want to keep creating spaces where this happens. So I had the support then from my group, knowing like there's a community out here that wants this work. So from there, I just kind of exploded with ideas and kept writing,” Ortiz said. 

Much of her work deals with heavy topics such as domestic violence, so after the play is finished, Ortiz leaves the audience with tools and resources. She also gives them time to process the feelings they experienced during the show, and sometimes the time after a show turns into a group therapy session. 

¿Que lo Que? was born from Ortiz’s experience of keeping in touch with family members during the pandemic, and dealing with the unexpected period of distance. She had family all over the states and in Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. 

Rather than listening to a podcast to pass the time, Ortiz ended up listening to the family WhatsApp group because they would often leave voice messages. There were people talking through the grief of losing a loved one to COVID-19, there was the excitement of Ortiz’s mom getting a new kitten, and all the moments in between. 

“I don't know, there was something about it. I was like, ‘wow, this is theater,’” Ortiz said. 

¿Que lo Que? was made possible through a partnership of Power Street Theatre, and was funded by the Leeway Art and Change grant, which provides up to $2,500 in funding for social change projects by women and trans artists in the Greater Philadelphia area. 

Users will join a WhatsApp group where a group of bilingual ‘primos’ navigate the pandemic while distanced from each other, and find meaning, connection and happiness in the process. 

The audio experience will be ideal for bilingual listeners, but Ortiz explained that monolingual listeners will still be able to understand the stories through the way the dialogue is structured. 

To join the group and be a part of the story, users simply text 484-334-5453 with their name, zip code, email address and WHATSAPP by Nov. 1. 

Participants will also be able to choose how they want to experience the stories. There is an option to listen as the stories come in, or  they wait a few days and listen to a few at once in their leisure. 

What Ortiz wants most is for participants to feel connected, to build empathy for the different ways people process trauma, and to simply have fun. 

“There’s moments where I’m laughing out loud, and there’s moments where I'm learning something,” she said.

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