When McKenna Shaw’s dad, Pittsburg High School Theatre teacher Greg Shaw, began producing Breakfast With Santa, McKenna was just five years old. 

“I can remember it, but not vividly,” she said.

Fast forward 12 years, and McKenna, now 17, will remember this year’s Breakfast With Santa very clearly: she is directing the popular Christmas tradition, which will run in one performance only this Saturday at 9 a.m. at Pittsburg High School.

The free show is a holiday-themed gift to the children of the community as one of the ways Thespian Troupe 3149 gives back. PHS Theatre provides the entertainment — a 20- to 30-minute production that each year features a different Santa-themed story with a bit of a lesson — and Mount Carmel Foundation provides breakfast after the show.

This year’s story is “How Santa Got His Christmas Tree,” by Tim Kelly.

It’s a simple, feel-good plot easily understood by even the youngest theater-goers: There’s big excitement in Santa’s toy shop. His helpers are building new toys and the mail is piling up. Mrs. Claus has sent for a Christmas tree, because Santa has always wanted one of his own, but trees don’t grow at the North Pole. 

Three nasty toymakers, Sneaky, Stingy, and Sly, are banished from Santa’s village for shoddy workmanship. To get even, they steal the tree from the mailman. And they won’t give it back unless Mrs. Claus surrenders all the toys!

Spoiler: Happily, Sneaky, Stingy, and Sly repent in the end, and Santa gives them new names to live up to: Loyal, Helpful, and Caring. The toys are saved, Santa’s tree is delivered, and all ends well.

The show is co-directed by Mona Estes. The cast includes: Santa Claus, Ben Shawn; Mrs. Claus, Greely Arck; Sneaky, Eve Bertoncino; Stingy, Aunyx Estes; Sly, Katherine Kirby; Jingle, Keller Erwin; Bell, Ella Rhuems; Friendly, Athennah Jones; Snowflake, Justice Allensworth; Ginger, Ashleigh Henderson; Toys, Ellie Carpenter, Mallory Womeldorff; Mailman, Drake Plain; Helpers, Justice Day, Isabelle Laidler, Daphine Samayoa, Adora Udokpan.

After the show, Santa will drop by the lobby to take photographs with children, where families also may enjoy coloring pages and visiting with the cast after the show.

It’s a great learning experience: it’s a show that Shaw encourages younger, less seasoned thespians to audition for as a way to get some stage time, and he turns the director’s reins over to a senior. He is there to lend a helping hand if needed, but the student director calls the shots, conducts auditions, sets deadlines, develops the concept of the show, and runs rehearsals.

This year, it was McKenna’s turn to direct. But her dad hasn’t been there to help as expected; he required unexpected surgery over the weekend at KU Medical Center. She forged ahead without batting an eye.

It’s not the first time she’s had to do so. In May, just as cast, crew, and band members of PHS Music Rep Theatre’s production of “Aida” were boarding the school bus for a trip to perform at the Jester Awards in Wichita, her dad fell and suffered a head injury. 

McKenna, who had a principal role in “Aida,” displayed fortitude, along with her cast mates and Shaw’s co-teachers/directors, at continuing ahead to do what they had committed to do. In a word, they all nailed it and brought home nine awards, including one for McKenna as Outstanding Leading Actress.

As of yesterday, Shaw is doing much better, reported his wife, Angie. They’re thankful to have received so many texts and messages of support from friends and community members. 

Shaw is bound and determined to get back to PHS for auditions for the all-school musical, “Freaky Friday,” on Monday, and has something else to look forward to: It was announced last week that their fall musical, “Pippin,” was chosen to be performed on opening night of the Kansas Thespian Festival on Jan. 9. For now, his colleagues have taken on the myriad of tasks associated with planning, organizing, fundraising, and rehearsing.

The unofficial motto for PHS Theatre, it would seem, is that age-old phrase: “The show must go on!”

— Andra Bryan Stefanoni is a lifelong Pittsburg resident and arts enthusiast. She is the director of media relations at Pittsburg State University. Feedback: andra.stefanoni@gmail.com