Chris Delay has decided to step backstage.

“My time in the spotlight’s done,” said Delay, whose first official full day as executive director of Great Plains Theatre was May 23. GPT bills itself as the only professional theater between Kansas City and Denver. It is celebrating its 25th season this year.

Kicking off its 25th season is Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty,” which opened tonight and runs through June 23.

The transition was not difficult because GPT has been part of Delay’s life for at least 23 years.

While he was in college, in the theater’s second season, he was hired as an actor then spent the rest of that summer backstage, building sets.

He’s been a performer, helped direct, built sets and served on the board. His wife, Jenna, has served on the board. His three children have come up through GPT Academy and his oldest daughter will start college as a theater major this fall, he said.

“GPT is just part of the family,” he said.

He was serving on the board of directors in March when former GPT artistic director Randy West and education director Margaret Clair resigned.

Delay had been working evenings and weekends at the theater while finishing his day job, journalism teacher at Abilene High School.

He sees a lot of parallels between his theater work and teaching.

“I’ve been an educator for a good long time and I still love teaching,” Delay said. “But I also know I love what Great Plains Theater has to teach our community. I know what value theater had for me when I was going through high school. That ability to have that artistic expression was very, very important to me.”

When he graduated from high school and went off to Emporia State University to major in education and minor in theater, he was the only one in his class to pursue theater.

This year, Delay said, he saw 16 or 17 in the graduating class involved with plays.

“Seeing that impact made me realize I wanted to make sure Great Plains Theatre had a home connection to Abilene,” he said. “The board approached me about carrying on the tradition.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, but he felt like it was the right time to make that call.

“To me the similarities are greater between teaching and running a theater in that you’re paid with passion,” he said. “It’s fun to step into that role. My job is to bring great artists and the community together.”

In a sense, GPT is returning to normal after a fire destroyed its first theater in August 2014.

Right after the fire the board decided to go ahead with the season but cut the number of productions from six to four because it was borrowing venues all around the county.

About four seasons ago, Delay said, GPT moved into its new permanent home, 401 Campbell, a former Alco warehouse and the season was expanded to five productions.

The board decided this past year to go back to a six-show season, Delay said.

“We need to expand. We need to grow. The goal for GPT is let’s grow,” he said.

“It’s my time to make sure we can turn on the spotlight, making sure we can get 25 more years.”

Contact Jean Bowers at reporter2@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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