“I’d moved back to Mount Gambier, and that was a real discombobulation for me,” Brokensha explains over slightly patchy mobile reception from her home in Eight Mile Creek, a short hop from the main town. “Moving back to my hometown from the city, [I was] trying to figure out what I wanted, and who I was.”
Brokensha had spent the intervening years touring with the likes of Windmill Theatre, Patch Theatre, Vitalstatistix and her own award-winning theatre company The Misery Children, before life eventually began to curve back to the south-east for herself and her husband.
“We were living in Melbourne at the time in a share-house, figuring out whether we wanted children, and I had these idyllic memories of my childhood and living on the farm,” she recalls. “And we kind of decided that we wanted to try and have kids out of the city, and back around family.
“[But] I guess coming back here, it felt like it wasn’t my home yet, walking through parts of the main street, or shops you used to go in as a teenager. It used to be, but I didn’t just slip back in. I’d been away for so long, and everything had changed.”
Shortly after moving back, Brokensha encountered the 2012 news story of a tourist in Iceland, who returned to her bus group after a day of hiking around the Eldgjá volcanic canyon – only to find a search party underway for a missing group member. The tourist joined the effort, which was called off in the early hours of the morning when it became evident she was the missing member all along (she had apparently changed clothes during the day and no longer matched the description of her lost self).
According to Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið, this wasn’t the first time such a mix-up had happened (a similar case of mistaken identity occurred in 1954), but the story soon filtered out across English-language news sites as an intriguing bit of viral clickbait. Eventually, it found its way to the Facebook feed of Brokensha, nearly 17,000 kilometres away.
“Daisy Brown, the director, and I were talking about what we could do next, and I just came across this article about this woman,” Brokensha explains. “She’d been literally searching for herself in this search party – and she found herself.
“It just brought up so many ideas, and parallels, about life and about losing and finding yourself, and I just went, ‘Oh my god, I would be that person who was searching for myself in a tour group’.”
Moving back home was just the first wave of “discombobulations” for Brokensha; first came motherhood (“I felt like I’d lost a part of me, or I couldn’t recognise myself,” she says), then the death of her father in January 2018, shortly before she and Brown began their first creative development with playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer (Hibernation). The pair had previously worked with the prolific writer on 2010’s Vitalstatistix/Misery Children co-production Ruby Bruise, and with Kruckemeyer’s help this anonymous tourist’s story was mapped onto Brokensha’s own experiences.
“My dad passed away very suddenly – it was a huge shock, and that became probably the thing that we explored the most,” she says, noting that she and her husband have since taken over the family farm and home in a twist of bittersweet circularity.
“So the grief and the loss of loved ones was woven into this story as well; essentially it’s just me onstage, exploring the different people we are throughout our life, and how we navigate our way through loss, and being lost.”
Despite the borrowed elements, Brokensha describes the resulting one-woman show, The World Is Looking For You, as “a very personal bit of theatre”.
The show begins its Adelaide season on September 1, after a sold-out premiere on Brokensha’s home turf in Mount Gambier. While the initial plan for the Country Arts SA-supported production was to tour regionally, to complete any production – particularly in a border-adjacent community like Mount Gambier – is a rare feat. A memorable appearance in State Theatre Company South Australia’s The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race in June places Brokensha among a lucky handful of performers in the country to appear in two productions in 2021.
“It’s just crazy – even just to have done those three shows in Mount Gambier I feel so lucky that we got to do those,” she says. “Because we did have a week of lockdown during rehearsals, I was just locked down in my director’s house – because it’s a one-woman show, I just locked down with her and kept rehearsing!”
In the end, home isn’t the worst place to find yourself.
The World is Looking For You will be at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre from September 1-4. It is presented by the Festival Centre’s inSPACE Program & Control Party, in association with Country Arts SA and Brink Productions.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.