ST. PETERSBURG — As a child, Linda Parris-Bailey experienced an unforgettable loss. When her cousin returned from fighting in the Vietnam War, he wrestled for months with how to process the violence he had experienced. Then, one day, the family got the news.
“All of my male cousins were drafted, and one of my cousins—actually the eldest cousin—died mysteriously after returning from Vietnam,” Parris-Bailey said. “He died in a car accident, a car accident with a wall.”
The death of Parris-Bailey’s cousin had a lasting impact on her. She had long suspected that his struggles led him to commit vehicular suicide, but the topic was not discussed in the family, leaving Parris-Bailey to sort things out for herself.
In college, she wrote a short story about her cousin’s death. Years later, reading about suicide and military combat helped Parris-Bailey realize her family’s loss and her cousin’s struggles were shared by many others.
She decided to share her story and got to work on what became “Speed Killed My Cousin,” an original play. Parris-Bailey interviewed veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder to understand the complexity of their experiences.
After five years of writing and researching, Parris-Bailey finished the play and recruited an ensemble cast from Knoxville’s Carpetbag Theatre, where she serves as executive and artistic director.
She teamed up with director Andrea Assaf, who studied theater and performance at New York University and founded Art2Action, which will co-host the upcoming National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military (NIAHM) national summit: “The Role of Arts in Recovery, Transition & Transformation Across the Military Continuum.”
The event will include original performance works by and for veterans. The groundbreaking festival, From Recovery to Regeneration, will place veterans’ stories—and the work of nationally acclaimed artists—at the center of an extraordinary cross-section.
More than 200 practitioners, researchers and policymakers will gather to inform a nationwide conversation about increasing access to the arts and creative arts therapies for veterans and their families.
Assaf welcomes the opportunity to help veterans.
“This is an extension of a multi-year commitment to offering artistic programming for veterans that Art2Action has been doing in partnership with The Carpetbag Theatre,” said Assaf. “We do a number of things in the Tampa area. We offer workshops at the Tampa Veterans Recovery Center, through the James A. Haley Hospital and the Bay Pines VA.”
The NIAHM national summit will be held Feb. 2-5 at USF Tampa’s Theatre and Dance Building on 3839 USF Holly Drive in Tampa. “Speed Killed My Cousin” can be seen Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the theater. Tampa’s own Andresia Mosely is featured in this performance alongside The Carpetbag Theatre.
Single event tickets are $39. Student and senior tickets are $24, and active duty military and veterans’ tickets are $12. Tickets can be purchased at ticketmaster.com.