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Published on: July 19, 2023

Immersive Queer Placemaking: What’s next for LGBTQ+ spaces?

Earlier this month, we caught up with the wonderful Shane Nickels to talk about his Seed Fund project – Immersive Queer Placemaking.

Right, so, first off, would you mind telling me a bit about yourself, who you are and what you currently do within the industry?

Hi, I’m Shane Nickels and I think I’ve always struggled to define what my role is. Most people know me as a producer or a creative producer, but I think the best job title I’ve come across is Creative Grafter because I’ve always worked somewhere in between fields from Digital, to Theatre, to Immersive – whatever we mean by that word. I’m often working in new and emerging ideas, whether that be a new theatre experience or an unusual event or I guess, innovation in some sense.

I’ve done productions and tours and all sorts, but I’ve always had more of a passion for, “oh, that persons got a really good idea, how do we get it off the ground?” And then with this Seed Fund with Media Cymru it’s about turning those skills into “oh, actually, I can have ideas too”. I don’t just have to facilitate other people’s ideas, instead, I’m asking “what do I want to make and what do I want to create?”

So, your Seed Fund project, Immersive Queer Place Making, explores how Immersive audio experiences could create new opportunities for Queer Nightlife in Cardiff. Could you tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea for this project?

The idea really started with myself and my collaborators, Tom Mumford, Rick Yale and Mat David going to different cities and commenting on what we see elsewhere but don’t see happening here.

We really got inspired when we were beginning to talk about the changing landscape of Cardiff. And especially when we look at LGBTQ spaces, we feel like we’re in a real period of change some of which is decline. But then there are also lots of examples of new things appearing and it just got us thinking and talking about, what do we need? We got excited around a digital queer layer to a city or a town or a place – how could you arrive in a place and be guided around it. Cardiff doesn’t have Gay Quarter like Manchester or other cities. There’s not a specific place that you can go – it’s a much smaller city.

And not to criticise in any way, but we also want queer entertainment beyond drag, beyond cabaret. Those things are great, and they serve an audience, but it can’t be the only offer. And other than watching a middle-class play about middle-class gays. I don’t know of the alternative entertainment that’s going on.

So that’s sort of it – four 30+ year-old gay men who wanted to make something and this opportunity came up and it felt like the right one because it sits a little bit outside of our history as creatives and were inspired by the challenge.

So, what are Immersive Audio experiences and how do you see this technology being used in the tourism, hospitality and nightlife space both now and into the future?

I see audio experiences as something that can augment space without losing a sense of community. I think Augmented Reality (AR) can do the same thing, and often AR doesn’t require headphones, which is interesting. But for me, there’s something about being able to mix a little bit of isolationism through headphones, but also a sense of community. I like the way that audio can be individual and collective. But I’m also really interested in it from a storytelling point of view.

Into the future? I think that’s about how a room can be mapped with audio and how as you move around that room or that space, it’s almost like being in an audio-video game without the need for Virtual Reality. I like the live aspect of being able to bleed audio together and I think there’s interesting stuff that’s headphone focused and is about that personal connection. But then I think there’s something interesting about how you use spatial audio across multiple speakers, so how you might be able to map a journey through a space that is Audio Led and be a real experience.

For me, anytime I’m talking about Immersive experiences, there’s always an element of live to it, whether that’s live performance or just four or five people doing it at the same time to 100 people are doing it at the same time.

As we know, some evidence suggests that lots of people are giving up drinking and generationally people are moving into new types of entertainment often away from screens – experience is the buzzword right now. So how do we build an infrastructure and an audience around these things? And I guess specifically for us, how does the queer community benefit from that? How do we create space in places where we don’t usually exist? What is the future of queer spaces? Is it still about what do they mean now? Now that there’s more acceptance and these spaces are more open? Yeah, I don’t have answers to those, I just have questions.

How do we create space in places where we don't usually exist?

So, you’re a producer. What’s been the most exciting project you’ve personally worked on throughout your career?

One of the jobs I had the most fun and freedom on was probably one of the first ‘Immersive’ things that I directed as an individual. I made a devised Immersive theatre show where the audience were the Jury on fictional cases, they were given an invite to come to Jury service and then they were allocated to one of three trials. There were three journeys through the show, each viewing a different trial and depending on what colour lanyard you were given depended on which case you witnessed. And it was a very weird show because in the end it wasn’t a real jury and it wasn’t a real court case. It was a cult where everyone in the cult had been wrongly accused of a crime, and so now they were going to retry each other to find the truth. It was performed in an abandoned former military base.

In a professional context and in an audio space, I worked with yello brick and we did an Immersive audio project for Powys council called The Three Sisters of Plynlimon. That was really enjoyable because it was the first time I’d looked at audio, from mapping it to a landscape and to a journey. All of the audio stories mapped to one of the rivers that we were looking at in Powys, and then eventually it became much more than just an outdoor meditative experience. It was really interesting to see audio storytelling while being relaxing and in a sense a kind of mindfulness. That’s something I still listen to as a user, so I must have enjoyed that one.

And finally, do you have any general advice for either yourself ten years ago or newbies within the media sector trying to make their way in the industry?

My genuine piece of advice is – be kind. No one gets into the creative industries or at least I hope we all do it because we’ve found happiness or joy in what creativity can do. And yes, we’re looking at making businesses and all of those things as well, but I think if anything has got me employed and got me work in the past it’s kindness and joy. And I think in the best teams and in the best ideas, that is always somewhere in the mix.

So, yeah have a purpose and don’t worry if that purpose changes over time. I’ve never made a career plan. Anytime anyone asks me, what’s your five-year plan? I don’t have one. But I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t been open to learning. The learning should never stop.

So, yeah, I guess keep on learning and be kind.