Salisha Thomas is a Broadway star and a former Miss California. She was most recently in rehearsal for Once Upon a One More Time; the new Britney Spears musical. She was also previously seen in Beautiful, the Carole King musical on Broadway. We dive into the Pandemic, love, compassion, and what it has been like to find ourselves.
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Conversation with Salisha Thomas
Who is Salisha Thomas?
I’m an actress. It took me so long to be able to say those words that I’m an actress and not laugh at myself and actually believe it. I feel like a lot of times being an actress, it’s like, I’m waiting tables am I really an actress. There’s so much unemployment that it feels like, Am I really doing this? So when you finally have that belief enough in yourself that you say, “Yes, I am doing this, I’m an actress!”, there’s a lot of pride in that. When the pandemic happened, Broadway shut down and I felt all of those things. I found that I had tied my identity into that and who am I without a show? Am I still the Broadway actress? If I’ve not worked for a year? Am I still the Broadway actress if I haven’t worked in a year and a half? So tying your identity into your titles? Gosh, who are you when those titles are stripped?
So 30,000 foot approach, who am I? I will say that I love to have fun. I love people. I appear to be an extrovert, but I think I might be an introvert because I recharge by myself. I enjoy one on one conversations, not groups of people, that is so nerve racking and draining. When I’m in a group of people, I’m really loud. I’ve done some shows. I’m getting ready to go back into rehearsals for the Britney Spears musical. In terms of titles, I used to be Miss California and I worked at Disneyland. But that doesn’t say who you are. I’m the person who, when there’s something that I want to do, I go and I do it and sometimes that’s scary, but it’s usually pretty rewarding.
So when I moved to New York City, I had been asking everybody’s permission. Should I move here? Should I move to New York and everyone said no. Well guess what, if you’re asking everybody around you, in not New York, if you should move to New York, they’re going to say no, this place is much better. Because that’s what they’ve chosen. Eventually, one day, I realized I really wanted to go there. I was done asking for permission. I bought the ticket and didn’t tell anybody until it was time for me to go. Then it wasn’t me asking permission, and it was more like informing that I was going to New York and it was the best decision I had ever made for myself. The week after I moved, I got a show that was in my life for about five years on tour and on Broadway. This would have passed me by if I had kept listening to what everybody else thought I should do.
In other words of deciding to do something and doing it. When I was on tour, I took a week off from the tour to run for a pageant and I became Miss California. I decided I wanted to run a marathon and I’m not a marathon runner, but I paid my little tuition and I showed up and I and I did it and it hurt. But that is something that I am proud of myself for, that when there’s something that I really want to do, I will just do it.
My journey to doing what I wanted to do.
When I was in school, we were trying to get into the BFA of musical theater program. They choose like 10 students a year. In my year, they chose 12 and that was a very big deal to get into that program. Everybody knows who the BFA’s are. I did get into the program which was a big accomplishment and my parents were so happy and proud of me. I got into the program and I was there for a semester and I got to know that it was really not for me. It did not resonate with me. So I got in, and then started feeling so unhappy. I thought it was a great program. It just wasn’t built for me. So I started thinking of switching my major and that was the first time that I felt like I was going to be letting down a lot of people, and I did in the short term. I remember going back to school the next semester, and I was that girl walking down the hallway with people whispering about me while I was in the hallway. It felt like I was in a movie. It was so weird. But it was the best thing that I could have done for me. I was able to graduate early and get my equity card and join the union and get a job in acting as a lead and then move to New York when I did. So in terms of that, doing what you need to do even if other people don’t want you to do that. I feel like that can be so scary, but when you are in alignment with who you are, what you need to be, your inner guidance system tells you everything you need to know. A lot of times it defies logic. The easier thing to do is to do the safer route which is usually the route that will not bring you the most joy in the end.
Let me rephrase that for the positive. In the moment when you’re faced with a choice and you really want to do choice A, but you know, if you do choice A, you don’t know what people are going say about you, what people are going to think about you, how it’s going to look on the outside, but that’s really what you want to do but you know it doesn’t make any sense. Or choice B, you can do nothing or do what people are expecting of you, fit into that, that status quo and not ruffle feathers and then have that, “what if I would have”, feeling. It’s not a great feeling.
I watched a TikTok that had this guy who was totally high on drugs but he was saying something so profound. He said, “What if when you get that gut feeling to do something, what if that is your future self having regret from the future reaching into the past? Which is your present self saying don’t do this. What if that gut feeling is your future-self’s regret saying, “Don’t do this, do this instead.” He said it much better than I just did but every single time that I have followed that gut feeling it has never led me astray even though in the moment it is really scary. It always makes the most sense and then after you’ve done it everybody in your sphere is saying well, of course, you did that and I’m so proud. But retrospect everyone gets it. You have to have that courage in the present to make the hard decisions that you know are the right thing to do for you.
That whole thing about the queen of the jungle I think it’s so interesting like in that book, I forgot who wrote it. I thought it was just so profound, how we are innately these powerful beings and we grow up in a society that basically tries to subtly strip us of our power and it takes a lot of unlearning to get back to when you get to a certain point and you’re proud of that you’re like, “wait, this has always been there. I just had to take out the crap.” Sometimes it feels like I’m building confidence. Well, when I was a 7 year old, I was the most confident person you’d ever met. It wasn’t until I got to my preteen and teen years when I lost all of that or maybe there was a lot of junk in my way that made me not feel confident. Then when you find that again, it was always there.
So this Queen of the Jungle, the lion is literally cowering through. Afraid of a branch breaking. Afraid of little animals. Afraid of the mouse and the mouse is being led by a hamster or something ridiculous, I forgot what the two animals are. The little mouse comes up and he asks, “Why are you acting like you’re afraid of everything? You can eat everything out here. Do you know who you are? There are no mirrors out here, you can’t see you but I can see you. You’re big and scary!” I wonder if it’s intentional or unintentional. I don’t want to say. I don’t want to even think it’s intentional. But the way our society is built, making us feel like we’re not powerful when we are so powerful.
My priority changes during the pandemic.
We’re not out yet, but we’re getting closer. I’m holding on to hope. It was really painful at the beginning. Like growing pains. People are losing people, people are getting sick and dying. There’s a lot of devastation around. New York City looked like an apocalyptic movie. So many people lost their jobs, their businesses, everything. So yes, a lot of awful things happened. But if you lived to get through it, a lot of people’s priorities changed. My priorities changed. I can speak for myself, what mattered to me before it just changed. The order of what is the most important thing changed when I got laid off from Broadway. I was sitting in what I feel like is a beautiful apartment in Manhattan, that I worked my butt off to buy and guess what I was by myself. No family. No pets. No kids. It was just me and months by myself.
I thought something’s not right here. I’ve been putting so much focus on my career and so when my career has taken a long pause, what else do I have? It’s just me in a box? No, this can’t be it. This cannot be the meaning of life. This cannot be it. So when things started coming down a little bit, I thought, great, I’m going to go home to Fresno, California. One might argue I ran away from years ago and went to New York. I’m going to go home, so I can see my family. Even if it’s just from the front yard. Even if I’m just waving. That is what matters to me right now. I want to see my mom and my dad and make sure they’re okay and I want to see my best friends. I’ve loved being single my whole life. It has been so fun. Sometimes it got lonely, I should say. Sometimes it was hard. But I’ve loved being single. We have so much freedom, this is great. But when I was in that pandemic, I wished that there was somebody here to drive me crazy. Instead of just me going crazy. It was just my mind saying, “Salisha, you’re about to die.” No, I wasn’t, I was fine. But my mind had played all these tricks on me because I was just sitting in a room by myself for 22 hours. The other two hours, I went on a walk, and I could hear people hacking in the street and coughing and suffering. When I tell you Manhattan looked apocalyptic. It truly did. I don’t know what was more stressful being home all day, or going for my walk and seeing everybody dying in front of me.
It was so stressful and I wanted more than anything. That was the first time I changed my mind and said, I am actually ready. Not fake ready. For real ready to meet my person. Before, it was always like a fantasy. I hope I have an awesome husband and I want to do this and that. But when it came down to it, I’d meet a great guy and say I’m not ready. Guess what, I was never going to be ready and then the pandemic happened. I thought to myself, this isn’t it. I want to make my own family. If this ever happens again, I need to make sure that when I go home, I’ve got my people, or my person. I feel like God was waiting on me because as soon as I made that declaration, I met him. A few months later, I’d been in single and in open relationships my whole life. Now there’s a ring on my finger from this pandemic. It’s a promise ring, so let me not mislead. But we fell in love quickly. I’ve dated a lot of people to know what I want, what I don’t want, and it was not a convenient relationship.
He lived in Oregon, I lived in New York and now he lives in New York. There are times when we’re together and I wonder what took him so long. There’s a lot of beauty that has come from this time. I don’t know if I would have ever prioritized relationships if it wasn’t for the pandemic.
What I learned from the pandemic.
I had never done meditation before this pandemic. My therapist asked me why I don’t meditate and I brushed him off. Like, what am I going to do with that? just going to sit here and breathe? Part of my issue at the time was I was afraid to breathe. I was so in my head that I couldn’t breathe hearing that was one of the symptoms. I never even got COVID. It was just so in my head. I never even had the antibodies after that whole time at the beginning of the pandemic. But in my head, I told myself I totally have it and I can’t breathe. So why would I want to have a meditation where I was being told to Breathe in. Breathe out. It was stressing me out.
But I stuck with it. I downloaded Calm. That was my first meditation app and it was just 10 minutes a day. Chill out, turn down the noise. A funny thing happens when you turn off the noise, it was literally what I was the most afraid of, during the pandemic. Before, my screen time on my phone was about three and a half hours on average. During the pandemic, my screen time was 10 to 11 hours because I could not be alone, I was so scared. I just needed somebody on FaceTime at all times, or somebody talking to me, or Zoom on. I just needed somebody else to virtually be in the room with me because I was so terrified. Then the thought of turning off all the noise is the opposite of what I wanted. But it did it and it brought me so much peace. Not only that, but I was able to listen.
I’m a pretty intuitive person; I had been a pretty intuitive person before this pandemic, before I found meditation. Now when I turn off the noise, the things I need to know are so much clearer. It’s crystal clear. Sometimes it comes as a feeling. Other times, it’s like somebody whispering in my ear. What I need to hear, what I need to do next. It is crystal clear and you can’t hear that if you’ve got a bunch of this all the time. So I would say that is a game changer. There are things that I know to be so true in my heart of hearts in my deepest gut, that I found myself worrying less. I’m now realizing, I don’t think I need to worry about that because I feel it in my heart that I don’t need to worry about that. Or, I feel a heating in this area. I need to pivot over here. I don’t know why, but I just feel that. I need to follow through on this. Whatever it is, the message is so clear. Positive, negative, whatever it is I need to do. It’s so clear and so I’m grateful to learn that. It’s exciting!
I was pretty consistent when I was truly in isolation. What happens if every day, for at least 15 minutes just sit and stop thinking about everything. Turn my phone on airplane mode, put my computer screen down and just sit, that’s my only job. I don’t have to make anything, I don’t have to get a word or a feeling. All I have to do is just sit and clear my mind and breathe. I feel like taking just a few minutes out of the day to do that creates shortcuts to getting what you want in life. We think hard work is going to get us to our dreams and sometimes it does. But when you are spinning your wheels, trying all these different things that aren’t for you, you will still get to your goal if you don’t give up. If you are persistent. But it can be so much faster if you just shut off the noise first and listen for the next best move instead of just trying all the moves. Listen to hear what comes up. What is the next best move? The time that I do that, I find it’s a shortcut, I got there way faster than I was expecting to.
It doesn’t mean that you still won’t get to where you’re destined to be. It just means it might look different. It might take a little bit longer if you don’t listen. But you’ll still get there. You just could get there quicker. I read in this last book I was reading, probably The Law of Attraction or something. Two people are running a mile and each person on their track has 200 doors that they have to run through before they finish the mile. The person who is in alignment, all of their doors are unlocked and open. All they have to do is just go through them. They have to go through them. But they’re opened, they’re unlocked, they’re good. The person who is not in alignment has to unlock it and open it. They have to stop, find the key, unlock it, open it. They will finish the mile eventually, if they don’t give up. It’s just going to take longer. It’s going to be a little bit more tiring, tedious, frustrating. But you will get there.
Learning to get myself out of the way.
I worked at Disneyland and I live in New York City. A lot of stimulation. Time Square is ridiculous. Disneyland is ridiculous. I am a big city girl. I just love being around a lot of things, a lot of people, a lot of places to go, see, do whatever. There’s that naked feeling but, if you get comfortable with the uncomfortable, it’s very freeing, whatever that is. Turning off the noise, if you learn that things could be easy if we allow it to be. There are things in my life that come so easy to me and there are things in my life that I have made so hard.
For example, Andrew, my significant other. Finding love has felt so hard and then the moment that I just decided for real, what I wanted and stated it out loud to God that I was ready, he just came waltzing in out of nowhere. If I were to lay out all the things in our relationship, anybody else would say that seems kind of fast. Well, I’m in it and so is he and both of us feel like it doesn’t feel fast though. It just feels right. But on the outside it kind of looks really fast but when it’s right, when you allow, things can be easy.
I am so used to making things hard and part of the ways that we make things hard is we might have blessings coming at us faster than we can even realize or even see. But we might be pushing it away without knowing that we’re doing that. Energetically doubting ourselves, telling people no, I don’t deserve that, I’m not worthy. It’s funny, the opportunities that come to me when I say Yes I am, and the rejections that I get when I am verbally doubting myself. It’s really pushing your blessings away.
What happens if we just get out of the way. Same thing on stage. Those actors on stage are regular people who put their jeans on one leg at a time, they have to go to the bathrooms like everybody else. But the special ones who are really good at their jobs get on stage and they get out of the way. They get themselves out of the way and they allow the character to breathe through them. When you’re so worried about what you look like, what you sound like, you’re in the way.
What I would tell my 16-year-old self
Who I was at 16 is very different from who I am today. I would say to her, you’re the bomb, but also be humble.
So much love,
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