STILL STANDING will be performed by Orange Grove Dance at MTPA's Stage One @ Park Place. Image courtesy of Orange Grove Dance.

As part of our growing Face Behind the Mask series, we look at how MTPA's rising star, Jemma Lehner, is taking on the challenges of the pandemic head-on.

MTPA- Maryland Theatre for the Performing Arts

Maryland Theatre for the Performing Arts (MTPA) is a non-profit organization committed to building a world-class performing arts facility in the heart of Annapolis, while cultivating and promoting a full art experience for all.

MTPA's current outdoor venue, Stage One @ Park Place, is the site of a future world-class performing arts center in Annapolis. While their venue is in development they are committed to providing programs at the site of their future arts center while also offering exhibition space for local art showings.

Like most organizations during the pandemic, they did encounter a few setbacks. They were forced to cancel a scheduled concert “Warriors in the Park”, with the Warrior Music Foundation due to the shutdown. The concert, where veterans perform, would have benefited both the Warrior Music Foundation as well as MTPA. In spite of the challenges though, they look to the future.

STILL STANDING, performed by Orange Grove Dance. Image courtesy of MTPA.

Jemma Lehner:  Face Behind the Mask

Annapolis native Jemma Lehner graduated in the spring from the University of Maryland with a double degree in Business Administration and Performance Management. Finding a job in the midst of a pandemic wasn't easy, but Jemma was determined. Deciding to use this time to gain experience, she called her high school dance teacher and mentor, MTPA Executive Director Mattie Fenton, to ask if she could volunteer.

Jemma Lehner, an Annapolis native, is the Dir. of Programming for MTPA. Image courtesy of Jemma Lehner.

Mrs. Fenton brought Jemma on board in May and by June she was MTPA's new Director of Programming! Her focus is to establish a schedule of events and offerings that attract new interest in the Performing Arts. Her plan of attack, first and foremost, is education. She wants to engage the community and spread the word on how Art brings us all together.

Jemma Lehner stands near the future home of the MTPA Performing Arts Center. Image courtesy of Jemma Lehner.

Talking with Jemma, her enthusiasm shines through. Her knowledge of the Annapolis community coupled with her drive for MTPA makes for a powerful combination. Even in the midst of the pandemic, she hit the ground running. It helps that MTPA is the only venue in Annapolis with a great outdoor space that can safely fit 400 people, following social distancing protocols of course.

MTPA, Performing Arts

Jemma is hopeful for their Fall/Winter season. She is promoting the arts with a dual focus on performing as well as visual arts. The first official MTPA program of the season is with Orange Grove Dance and promises to be a moving and thought provoking performance. (See video below.)

She booked it in June, when the Executive Order prohibiting performances was in place. Hopeful that the timing would work out, her intuition was spot on and the first performance is November 6th. (update, November 6-7 shows are SOLD OUT)


The Orange Grove Dance Company is DC-based and known for doing site-specific work. This performance will create a visual connection to the Annapolis National Cemetery, which is the backdrop behind Stage One. The entire space will be lit with 150 LED lights set to mimic the cemetery and create a continuous flow between the two spaces. The performers will dance throughout the space, picking up the lights and moving about.

A maximum of 50 Spectators per show will be seated up on the Terrace, socially distanced, looking down. There are eight performances total, and it is a 40-minute show. Click here for tickets.

 The Gallery at MTPA

Pictured is a South River Dance Company student using the gallery at MTPA for her virtual dance class! Image courtesy of MTPA.

In addition to the performance art that MTPA brings to our region, they also manage and curate a gallery on-site. A new installation, Stemming Perspectives, features the work of Jan Hendra and Karen Degraffenreid. Again, thinking outside the box, Jemma has implemented a socially distant opening night reception for the new exhibition. On November 20th, with doors open and heaters outside, MTPA will allow guests to peruse the gallery, a few people at a time.

As part of the exhibition, there will be a debut performance of "Broken Stems" by Annapolis' newest professional contemporary dance company, The Company at MTPA. This event is free and open to the public and wine and hors d'oeuvres will be served. A $20 donation to MTPA is encouraged.

The Company @ MTPA practices for their debut performance this November. Image courtesy of Jemma Lehner of MTPA.

Local Outreach Key

From a local outreach perspective, the guiding principle for Jemma has been to consider how this venue can help the community. Currently, Downtown Hope Church has 250 people in the space every Sunday. The calendar is busy with art events, concerts and dance performances including the Ballet Theatre of Maryland. They’re offering lower rates and at times providing their venues free-of-charge to artists and small studios during these unprecedented times.

Jemma Lehner of MTPA added a performance of STILL STANDING for veterans on Veteran's day. Image courtesy of Orange Grove Dance.

She also added a free showing of STILL STANDING on Veteran's Day. This particular performance is for AACPS students (Anne Arundel County Public Schools) and local veterans. There will be a special ceremony and moment of silence at the beginning of the performance as a tribute to fallen soldiers.

Looking Ahead

While she admits it has been challenging to keep up with MTPA's fundraising goals, they plan on offering these discounts well into the spring. They’ve seen an increase in social media followers, developed new relationships and formed valuable partnerships over the last few months. It looks like all their hard work is paying off.

Forever tackling the challenges head-on, MTPA is secure in it's vision for the new arts center. Working to achieve world-class program offerings at Stage One and the Gallery at MTPA remains their goal. The organization is gaining momentum and they are quickly establishing themselves as an inspiring member of the Annapolis Arts Community. Jemma Lehner and MTPA are thriving, it looks like a bright future for both!