Declan Desmond draws from real life for ‘Emperor’ role at Marriott Theatre

SHARE Declan Desmond draws from real life for ‘Emperor’ role at Marriott Theatre

Declan Desmond rehearses on stage at Marriott Lincolnshire Theater for leading role in the upcoming production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes, Monday, February 19, 2018
| Rob Dicker/For Sun-Times

In the upcoming production of the stage musical “The Emperor’s New Clothes” at The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences, Evanston Township senior Declan Desmond stars as the sweet yet somewhat gullible character of Emperor Marcus, who is put in charge of a new land at the ripe old age of 14.

“He doesn’t want all of this pressure,” Desmond said, in a recent interview. “It’s just too much for him to handle.”

Declan knows how he feels.


When: Feb. 24-May 12 Where Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire Tickets/info:

“I honestly end up channeling all of my 14-year-old insecurities and draw from my own life in this role,” the 18-year-old Desmond said. “At that age, I was transferring schools and I felt like the whole world was sitting on my shoulders. And even at this age, I feel dragged down by the gunk of politics and everything.”

Desmond said he knows first-hand the escape of live theatre can offer young people.

“There’s just something about being able to forget everything that’s going on and get lost in another world,” he said at a recent rehearsal for the play. “When I was a kid, I used to go to the movies and assume that the people on the screen went through some magical portal to a new world. I always think about that now. Nothing feels better than taking a deep breath and walking into a theater. There is nothing like that in the world. It’s magical.”

And when it comes to magical moments, The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences are pros at producing productions of enchanting fairy tales that take children to a whole new world. “The Emperor’s New Clothes, directed and choreographed by Amanda Tanguay, with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson, is one of the most beloved tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

Declan Desmond plays Emperor Marcus in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” | Rob Dicker/For Sun-Times

Declan Desmond plays Emperor Marcus in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” | Rob Dicker/For Sun-Times

Presenting a show for the young audience does change things up for the actors and actresses working to tell their story. “I have talked to some of my fellow actors on this show who have done shows for a younger audience, and they all say the same thing,” says Desmond, who will share the stage with a slew of Chicago’s most talented young artists, including Garrett Lutz as Arno, Johanna McKenzie Miller as Swindler, Christine Bunuan as Deena, and George Keating as William. “[The audiences] truly know when you are on, and they know when you are off. And most of all, you learn how to constantly feed off their energy with each and every performance.”

And it helps to lean on that energy when your mind goes blank. “I don’t usually forget lines, but there are moments where you have a moment when your heart jumps and you are not sure of the next words that are supposed to come out of your mouth,” Desmond said laughing. “But it doesn’t happen very often. I firmly believe that if you do the work, you can just let it flow.”

As Desmond continues to juggle his acting along with finishing off his high school years, he says that shows like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” teach him that no matter how bad things get, you can find your storybook ending. “It’s my dream to just spend my life telling stories,” he said quietly. “Whether that means I’m on the stage or behind the scenes, I think stories can change the world.”

NOTE: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” will run most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m., with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. Visit for the complete schedule.

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