If you're intimate enough to be exchanging gifts with either a fan or a practitioner of theater, you know that "they" can be extremely ... uh, particular.
They tend to feel misunderstood, so you'll score huge friendship points if you give a gift that shows you get them. Here are a few ideas:
1. Something old, crappy, and unique.
Rare doesn't always mean expensive -- think about the genres your lucky recipient enjoys and/or their wardrobe or decorating scheme, and dive into some vintage shops for costume pieces, jewelry, old or out-of-print scripts, books, and sheet music, musical instruments, knickknacks, and soundtrack albums (often worth it just for the cover art).
Poke around enough on the Internet and you'll find a freakin' ashtray, mug, poster, or matchbook from just about any current or historic venue or event. Save shipping, "shop local," and make sure your gift arrives in time by looking for vendors within driving distance.
If you're feeling more spendy, find something autographed by one of your buddy's idols, like the Broadway posters and assorted letters and photos from this eBay seller.
Make sure this doesn't come across as your idea -- i.e., if your stage-struck friend hasn't mentioned wanting to study more, then a gift that suggests their talents need honing could be a huge blow to the ego and the relationship. But assuming the recipient is humble and honest about such things, classes are hard to fit into the typical starving artist's budget and are therefore a super gift. Fees vary, and some programs are designed to accept sporadic attendance.
Many of the best actors in town stay sharp at Megaw Actors Studio in Scottsdale, operated by Evelyn Elaine Moe. Space 55 is a serious (but fun) workspace for both performers and writers, and four Monday-night sessions of acting with Duane Daniels, who directed Munched, are scheduled for January at the sweet price of $100 in advance for all four.
The Maricopa Community Colleges are a great place to get solid fundamental training in things like vocal music, acting, and writing, as well as experience in live productions.
4. Something from the Great Arizona Puppet Theatre gift shop.
Though it's heavily puppety, there's something in this amazing little shop at 302 West Latham Street for just about every age and taste, like esoteric finger puppets from The Unemployed Philosopher's Guild, which include scientists, deities, fictional characters, and the subjects of famous paintings, as well as playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. They're under ten bucks each and can double as fridge magnets.
The store also carries books, journals, and how-tos for the serious puppeteer or crafter.
5, Tickets to Spring Awakening.
This June 2012 co-production by Nearly Naked and Phoenix Theatre is going to be the show to see. The Tony-winning rock-musical setting of a 1906 German proto-Expressionist play about teenagers who can't talk to anyone about their sexuality makes its regional première right here.
Get super seats for $25 to $39 each by becoming a Facebook friend or e-mail subscriber of Nearly Naked Theatre before December 31. If you let them know you're buying tickets as a gift, you'll get an attractive voucher package that will let the recipient pick the show date (if they hurry). The remaining tickets go on public sale for higher prices January 1.