Cold Tofu Improv’s long-time artistic director, Helen H. Ota, and Board of Directors President Scott Yamabe will be retiring from their respective positions at the end of the year.

“My plan as artistic director was to grow the number of performing members, create more performance opportunities, bring Cold Tofu closer to the Asian American community through partnerships and collaborations, and provide improv workshops for performers and professional development,” said Ota, who has directed the organization since 1994.

Helen Ota and Scott Yamabe
Helen Ota and Scott Yamabe

“With Scott’s leadership as board president and his personal support of me, as well as the hard work of the core performing members, I can definitely say we are doing all of the above today. I believe I’ve been able to take Cold Tofu as far as I can and now it’s time for new leadership to continue the group’s artistic growth.”

“As board president, I wanted to make sure Helen and the core performing members had the opportunity to grow artistically,” said Yamabe. “It was my goal to ensure board support for her vision and the group’s success. The growth of Cold Tofu has been tremendous under Helen’s direction. We now have a strong and dedicated group of performing members who continue to move Cold Tofu forward.”

During her tenure, Ota focused on growing Cold Tofu’s membership and visibility through education and outreach. Along with the core performing members, the organization developed teaching curriculum and workshops to train performers and non-performers in improv. This led to the creation of the Advanced Team, a “minor league team” with students who had gone through all levels of training and were honing their improvisation skills. Today, there are currently 30 performing members.

Ota also worked to develop strong relationships with the Asian American community. Cold Tofu offered professional training sessions to organizations such as the Asian Professional Exchange, performed for groups such as the National Association of Asian American Professionals and the Smithsonian Institution, and members were frequently seen as the master of ceremonies at events such as Nisei Week and LA-18’s Harvest Moon Festival.

The highlights of Ota’s time as artistic director came in 2013 when Cold Tofu was honored by East West Players with a Visionary Award and by Nisei Week as the parade marshal. Cold Tofu also received the 2005 Community Service Award from Nisei Week and in 2008 the Southern California Cherry Blossom Festival’s Sen. Daniel Inouye Leadership Award.

“I’m so proud of what Cold Tofu has accomplished over the years, and we continue to be successful thanks to the commitment of all the performing members and board members,” said Ota. “I’m truly fortunate to have worked with an amazing group of people I consider my friends. Although I’m retiring as the artistic director, I plan to perform with and will continue to support Cold Tofu and its new leadership.

“When the four founders (Marilyn Tokuda, Denice Kumagai, Judy Momii and Irma Escamilla) started Cold Tofu in 1981, they created a strong and vibrant organization. The current members continue this tradition and the future looks very bright.”

“We truly appreciate Helen’s dedication during her 19 years as artistic director, and I am grateful to have been surrounded by board members whose efforts and support have been tremendous,” said Yamabe. “I look forward to what the new artistic director and board president will accomplish over the next several years.”

Marketing Director Stefanie Lau has been promoted to managing director and will oversee the organization as it transitions to new artistic leadership. The board is conducting a search for the new artistic director and hopes to have the position filled in early 2014.

In 2005, Cold Tofu began monthly performances at the St. Francis Xavier Chapel, 222 S. Hewitt St. in Los Angeles. The performance on Saturday, Dec. 7, will be Ota’s last as artistic director. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and $7 tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information, visit

COLD TOFU is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is dedicated to promoting diverse images of Asian Pacific Americans through comedy and to developing multiethnic talent through education and performance.

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