Artist of the Month- October - Tom Tiding

This month's AOM is Tom Tiding. Recently nominated for the Heart Award, Mr. Tiding is known for his work with Hong Kong Stories. He was one of the maestros behind Story Worthy Week and is known for his sense of humor and enthusiasm for the Hong Kong art scene. He's also one of those people that makes you feel good about yourself when you're around him. Always a bonus! Get to know him below...



1. Name, Birthplace, Age

Thomas Tiding of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 41. Of course, that’s a stage name, and a completely ridiculous one. But I’ve been using it for more than a decade now.


2. How does where you were raised affect your work?

It’s a smaller city of about 3 million, but it’s quite isolated—you have drive 500 kilometers to reach the nearest big city to the east and all the way to the West Coast to the west before you hit a bigger city. In the winter, it’s a godforsaken tundra where people entertain themselves by drinking beer and cutting holes in frozen lakes to catch fish.

But the isolation also means that locals are used to making their own entertainment. You have a larger and deeper arts community than a quasi-Siberian frontier outpost has any right to deserve, and that community is incredibly creative. Minnesota’s isolation produced creative geniuses like Bob Dylan and Prince. So there is an inspiration to just try things. We don’t all get to be creative geniuses, but it doesn’t matter when it’s February, the arctic wind is howling, and you haven’t seen anyone outside your family for three weeks. That’s the perfect environment to tell stories.

Of course, the people are also insufferably self-righteous and cheerful, so Minnesota’s biggest export probably is people who are tired of winters and/or cheerful people.


3. Where did you train?

My mom was a truck driver, and I quit school for a year to ride with her when I was 11. I learned the basics of storytelling talking to strangers in truck stop restaurants after long days on the road.

More formally, I took courses with the incomparable Vijai Nathan of Story District in Washington, DC. She is one of those rare gifted performers who are naturals but who can also explain what they do so naturally. I expect Vijai to be one of the few storytellers to make it big—she was on a Russell Peters Christmas special and auditioned for a Netflix show—so watch for her name.

My first show was directed by Stephanie Garibaldi, who’s another veteran of the Washington storytelling community—she had a very steady hand and opened my eyes to what “directing” really means in the storytelling context.


4. What is your favorite style of storytelling? Why?

There are two camps: the traditional folk storytelling community, and the modern “let me tell you about me” story groups that have exploded because of The Moth and David Sedaris. I love them both, although I’m only involved in autobiographical storytelling.

The folk stories are amazing because they have endured for so long. They offer great lessons in how to structure stories and in what kinds of things people care about.

Autobiographical storytelling is fascinating to me because of its authenticity. You are taking something real and imposing the discipline of art to make it entertaining. In some ways, that is the opposite of other creative process, where you take the entertaining and try to make it real. While the popularity of autobiographical storytelling is surely linked to our vulgar and brain-dead fascination with watching buffoons on reality TV shows, I think storytelling leads to a better place. Storytellers have to consider their lives, think about turning points, and come to conclusions about what really matters. It demands a degree of introspection that can be uncomfortable but I hope makes us better, more self-aware people.

But ultimately, I love it because it enforces listening. You have to cede the mic to someone else and actively listen. It’s something we need to do more of, even when there’s no stage.


5. What was the best show you EVER saw?

I get excited every time I see a good show. I know it’s a good show, because after I watch it, I want to try something new. So it’s difficult to pick a best show.


6. What was the best show in HK you EVER saw?

Of the international shows, I loved Paper Cinema’s Odyssey because it was so creative, but also because they found the story in the Odyssey—they made it emotionally resonant.

I also admired the Dutch National Ballet’s Cinderella because the visuals were amazing.

In local shows, I thought Hong Kong Ballet’s 2014 Nutcracker was, finally, a Nutcracker that didn’t completely suck. I hate that show because it’s such a stale tradition, like eating food during the holidays made by relatives who can’t cook. You have to do it, but you never like it. That 2014 version was such a thorough reimagining that something finally clicked with me.

I’ve loved being able to see Motown almost-legend Bobby Taylor around town. He is so cantankerous, but day-um, that voice.

On the grassroots level, I’ve seen so much good stuff, and I think our arts scene can hit the same highs as any other bigger city. It’s We just need to do it more.


7.What piece of work are you the most proud of? 

It’s not a storytelling project. I wrote a romance novel called Tide’s Ebb.

The idea was to try to write the world’s most poorly-reviewed romance novel. I was hoping that people would hate it so much that they’d recommend it to others to hate-read. So I studied classic romance novels for about six months to learn the genre, and then wrote the least sympathetic heroine possible (racist, conceited, snobbish, obsessed with her own breasts). To fit into the genre, she had to end up with the hero, but I wanted to make it the most anticlimactic happy ending ever—something that matches the real-life sense of romantic resignation.

And it worked, for a while. The early reviews were amazingly awful:

“There was nothing redeeming about the plot, characters, or writing. Avoid this at all costs unless you enjoy stopping to stare at car accidents.”

But ultimately, Amazon’s algorithms took over—and the sales naturally plummeted. I guess you could say the market worked.


8. What is your process like? With autobiographical storytelling, you’re obviously starting with your own life. But what makes a good story? How do you remember the best moments?

With Hong Kong Stories, the process is best when it’s collaborative: you’re in a group, you listen to other people tell their stories, and before the session is done, you’re reminded of two or three stories from your own life. With storytelling, you get immediate feedback—and you see the looks on your listeners’ faces. It’s a social process, but, after the session is done, it’s like other writing: you go back to the computer and edit.


9. What is your dream project?

Bringing David Sedaris to Hong Kong last year was probably my dream project. What I’d really like to do now is work on a variety show that blends music, theater, stand-up and storytelling seamlessly. I’ve really enjoyed seeing other variety shows, but I’d like to try to write a coherent show that brings the different types of performance together. At Hong Kong Stories, we tried one show where we blended autobiographical storytelling, theater and folk storytelling and it didn’t quite click. After that show, I realized that audience expectations are key: they interact differently with theater than with autobiographical stories. I still think it’s possible to pull it off—it just will take more work.


10. If you could change one thing about the art scene in HK, what would it be?

Venues!! I’d love to see more venues everywhere. Yes, we’re short on space, but let’s get creative about using space for multiple purposes. It would be great if the government could articulate its vision for how we can all use Hong Kong’s space—every time a developer asks to change the zoning to build a new tower, the government ought to ask for some sort of civic space in the development in return. But we shouldn’t wait for the government to solve this: let’s find ways to make use of the underutilized spaces we already have. Wouldn’t it be great if someone in HK set up an Airbnb for venues?




  • Candice Moore
    03 October 2015

    I think you're the one to kick-start the Airbnb idea Tom Tiding. Artsbnb?
  • David Young
    05 October 2015

    Great interview. I hope that variety show finally comes together one day.

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