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Buddying up with the Opera House

Not-for-profit initiative Gig Buddies helps people with learning disabilities party by night at Vivid LIVE

Justin Tam
Online Content Developer

During Vivid LIVE this year, the Sydney Opera House partnered with not-for-profit initiative Gig Buddies to pair people with a learning disability with volunteers and take them to a show at the festival. For Kimberly and Jennie, her new buddy, their first night out together was far from hot chocolate and a movie; it was a show with Ice Cube, the rapper and frontman of Compton hip-hop collective N.W.A—in the Concert Hall, of all places. While the crowd might have been a bit too loud chanting and cheering along, the music was just fine for Kimberley.

Jennie and Kimberley — Ice Cube

In the Concert Hall, Ice Cube voice booms from somewhere behind the stage. The crowd cheers and the lights stay dark. The rapper’s name erupts onto the screen behind the stage in letters swallowed by fire. By ‘You Can Do It’, the crowd is chanting along. Inflatable ‘West Side’ hand signs rise from the back of the stage. Classic N.W.A. video clips stretch across the screen behind Cube with lo-fi pride. When the DJ drops ‘Check Yo Self’, Kimberley and Jennie are already up and dancing with the rest of the crowd.

Jennie turns to Kimberley in the seat beside her to check in, to see if she’s enjoying herself. She has blu tack in her ears to muffle the sound, and can’t make out what her carer is saying. Jennie gives her the thumbs up, and gets a thumbs up back. Throughout the night, this small gesture reminds Jennie that this experience together isn’t something Kimberley usually gets to see.

“People with a learning disability can't have a night out. They just never experience it.”

‘At the gig, she was asking me whether I was okay as well, whether I was enjoying myself,' says Jennie. ‘She tries to look after me, even though I’m meant to be looking after her. It’s meant to be a friendship, and it already is between me and Kimberley.’

Concerts and music festivals can be overwhelming, even for the most seasoned of us. The crowds, the long lines and the loud music. Gig Buddies gives people experiences—organising movie nights out, brunches and concerts—that people might not have a chance to enjoy.

‘When I went to the first training day at Gig Buddies, they told me most of the carers only work until nine,’ says Jennie.

‘It means people with a learning disability can’t have a night out. They just never experience it.’

They’d only met once before, at a meetup that Gig Buddies held to introduce new volunteers to their potential buddies. For Jennie, this was a moment that opened her eyes.

‘I had no idea what it was like for her. I’ve never come across anyone with a disability so I didn’t know how they live their lives. Even the first time I met her she just grabbed hold of me and gave me a big hug. I was a bit reserved, but she just put her arms around me and gave me a big squeeze. She wasn’t scared to do that at all...And I was.’

A new perspective on Vivid LIVE

Press play to watch video

Claire and Hanne — Middle Kids

Claire and Hanne have been friends through the initiative for over two years now. The show they attended, Sydney band Middle Kids, was a bit more subdued than Ice Cube but it didn’t stop Hanne from dancing.

‘When we go to the Opera House or some plays, you can tell she’s a little bit out of her comfort zone but she seems to enjoy it more because it’s something different.

‘I wasn’t sure whether Hanne was loving it or not. It was really hard to tell because it was dark, she wasn’t really doing much...And then one song came on and she just stood up.’

For people like Claire, sometimes sharing an experience with someone through Gig Buddies teaches them something they’d never expect.

‘Hanne took me to my first AFL game. I had no idea what was going on and didn’t understand anything. She had to talk me through the whole thing. That’s something I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t have met Hanne.

‘I’ve been really influenced by what she likes as well and getting into her world.’

The crowd in the Concert Hall during Ice Cube's show. Photo: Daniel Boud

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