Shawnee Mission South teen turns teasing into fuel for passionate performances

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- She's at home on any stage. Maria Heath's teachers at Shawnee Mission South call her a passionate performer, and she agrees.

"I'm always telling a story," Maria said.

Her story is focused on the arts. The sophomore is not only a straight-A student and a theater buff. She's also a self-published author.

"All of the characters are based on friends of mine, and we're going on adventures and whatnot," she said.

The 400-page book is called "Traitors" and is about an FBI director who has tough choices to make after her agents go rogue.

"I started it in October of seventh grade, and I finished it in July, so about 9 months later. So it's kind of like my baby!" the Johnson County teen said.

It's a paper baby, of course.

"It's just such an amazing experience to say this is something I've done," Maria said.

She considers the stage her second home.

Maria Heath

"I don't know how to describe the rush that I feel in my heart," she said. "It's just a feeling of pure joy."

Her key to a compelling performance is quite simple: "Pulling from real experiences makes the acting more real."

But Maria's story isn't all sunshine and rainbows.

"The obstacle was wanting to be liked," she said.

In middle school, Maria said she struggled with "fitting in" and was often teased.

"It was just a bunch of jokes," the Shawnee Mission South sophomore said.

Jokes that, at the time, were painful but built character that allows her to shine today.

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain," she said.

Shawnee Mission South theater director Mark Swezey says Maria flourishes in his classroom.

"She just has this great passion for everything that I have seen her involved in," he said.

She's been a part of several school plays and is also involved in her school's women's choir and the Young Playwrights Roundtable at the Coterie Theatre. As you've probably guessed, after graduation in a few years, Maria is interested in a career in acting, writing or journalism.

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