Courtesy of Chesed Chap

When Chesed Chap ’25 describes her show “Education,” her go-to pitch involves referencing the opening of “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” as she launches into an explanation of what steel drums are. 

Chap, who grew up in the small town of Patagonia, Arizona, said her love of theater was largely fostered by the town’s abundant resources for community art. But when a new superintendent enforced a change to student schedules, Chap said her high school faced heavy cutbacks in arts elective classes and opportunities — including the steel drum band. Years later, this event served as inspiration for “Education,” which is set to be performed in October as the Dramat’s student-written 2023 Fall Ex show. 

“There were some people in our administration that were really like, ‘We don’t care about your complaints and the arts or whatever, like it’s just not a big deal to us,’” said Chap. “It was so frustrating, loving this thing so much and knowing that other people felt the same way.” 

Chap said she then began to keep a note in her phone, recording “crazy things” school administrators said — remarks that she found “ridiculous and so totalitarian.” 

But this experience also taught Chap a lesson that would prove foundational to her years at Yale: “You had to really laugh through it all.” 

And laugh she did. While Chap said she entered Yale set on immersing herself in campus theater life, she was able to find another avenue for her creative writing: comedy. She joined sketch comedy group Red Hot Poker in her first year at the University; now, she directs it.

According to former Red Hot director Zoe Larkin ’24, Chap was an “immediate standout.” 

“She gives the characters, even in her comedic plays, things that they want, and things that they want so badly, that you as an audience member want for them,” said Larkin. “And thus, when these characters are placed in a situation where they can’t get that, you feel for them, you ache for them, and you really just want things to get better for them. That’s the mark of a play that gets the audience invested.” 

As for Chap? She wanted it bad.

“Education” was based on Chap’s struggle to revitalize her steel drum band and fight against her school administration. After her school changed their class schedule format, art and music teachers were forced to teach for only an hour a day, which ultimately led to the teachers quitting, said Chap. 

After the school’s musical director left, Chap took it upon herself to direct the steel band, even though that meant only being able to practice during lunch-time because no adult was willing to supervise their rehearsals after school. Her love for the steel band, she said, was a key factor in her decision to attend Yale, one of two Ivy League schools with a steel band. 

But when she arrived at the University, Chap hunted for the steel drum band at her first extracurricular bazaar, only to find that the group was, according to Chap, practically extinct. Red Hot Poker, however, quickly filled the steel instrument-sized hole in her heart.

“Just socially, [Yale] felt like so many people at first, and I always thought that I was a pretty outspoken person and very extroverted. And then I came to college, and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to talk to people,’” she said. “Really, I’d say the first friends I made were in Red Hot Poker. And I remember, it was like, ‘Okay, glad I got these guys, because they’re a very weird bunch.’”

For Max Fisher ’26, Red Hot Poker was also his first social group at Yale. Fisher described Chap as an integral part of his feeling of belonging in the group. 

It’s “well-known” that Chap is a funny individual, Fisher said, but he realized that Chap’s talents stretch beyond the realm of comedy — because “few people are able to write a beautiful play that is not only funny but also meaningful,” he said. 

Noah Bradley ’25, dramaturg for the show and fellow Red Hot Poker member, thinks one of Chap’s strengths is her ability to not take things too seriously in her life, instead “finding the funny” in all that she does. To Bradley, this makes Chap “pretty fearless.” 

“I think ‘Education’ is a perfect distillation of all of her humor,” Bradley wrote in an email to the News. “It’s referential, it’s a little bit crazy, and it’s creative and original while still feeling accessible and relatable. She leans into the craziness of the characters and situations, but also has some great deadpan snark and mockery.” 

Beyond Chap’s theatrical endeavors and her role as a director and writer for Red Hot Poker, Chap is a friend he can rely on outside of the group setting, he said.

As director of Red Hot Poker, Chap uses her theatrical and comedic writing experiences, as well as her empathy, to deliver helpful comments to the group, according to Fisher. 

“If I bring a sketch into a meeting, and I’m not feeling super great about it, I can count on her as someone who’s going to have ideas about the game, the plot, small little jokes that pump up the sketch,” said Fisher. “She’s also able to give directorial notes in a very easy to understand way. I just think that she’s someone who really understands each member of the group, and through that is just able to offer pieces of advice and suggestions that will just make everyone around you better.” 

When describing the difference between comedy writing and playwriting, Chap said that sketch comedy can make jabs at societal issues, whereas a theatrical piece carries a responsibility to provide solutions with its social commentary.

Chap encapsulates this philosophy in “Education,” where she marries her comedy experience with a theatrical format. 

Any problems regarding the high school band were met with resistance, Chap said, as she claimed that school administrators did not share her urgency and care for the band. 

“Well, there wasn’t really a solution to that,” Chap said. “So I feel like comedy then feels like this hug where it’s like, ‘It’s okay. Just kind of laugh about it if you can.’”  

Now in her third year of college, Chap can return this hug to her high school self, as she brings the story of a teenager’s frustration to life on the stage. While her play is largely based on her personal experiences, Chap said she hopes that cast and audience members can see fragments of their own experiences mirrored in the play as well. 

When the News asked Chap about her future plans, she said that she hopes to follow in similar footsteps as Red Hot alumna Auguste White ’21, who joined the team behind Saturday Night Live as the show’s youngest writer ever. Similarly, Chap intends to pursue comedy writing for the stage or the screen, in a world where she continues her creative endeavors and artistic intelligence no longer exists.  

“When Chesed is 27, I hope she’s writing for TV. I hope all the AI TV writers are dead, I hope AI is in a ditch. I hope we’re celebrating the seventh anniversary of the end of the writer’s strike,” said Chap. “I hope I’m making stuff and I hope I’m making it with my friends above all.” 

Red Hot Poker was founded in 2003.

Correction, Sept. 27: This article originally incorrectly stated the year Red Hot Poker’s conception; it has been updated accordingly.