In eighth grade, Salisha Thomas (she/her/hers) saw Wicked on Broadway. She recalls “from the overture I was like what is happening to my body. I didn’t know you could do that for a living. It was fun, and looking at these people on stage, I was so inspired. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I wanted to do that.” And so Salisha majored in musical theatre In college and began working at Disneyland.
Soon she needed a break and wanted to come out to New York City. “I didn’t tell anybody. I gave away my shifts for the month and came out here to see what it felt like being here. I fell in love instantly.” But Salisha wasn’t sure if moving to New York was what she wanted to do until later in that very same trip. “I met this homeless man while waiting for the train. He looked at me. I looked right back at him. He told me ‘I don’t know who you are but you need to move here and you need to do it now.’ I was like what. The train came and I’m looking at him as the doors are shutting. He mouthed the words good luck as the train pulled away. My whole body was engulfed in chills. It felt like I was visited by angels. By the end of the day I put in my two weeks’ notice and bought a round trip ticket.”
Three weeks later Salisha had moved to New York and she heard about Beautiful: The Carole King Musical having auditions. She got an audition right after her first shift bussing tables (which she admits, she was not good at). And she got a part in the National Tour! She toured for two years before joining the Broadway cast of Beautiful and closing out the show in 2019. “I loved Beautiful. I loved it before I even saw it. It was my favorite show I had the opportunity to be in. What I loved about it most was the backstage. We liked each other and cared about each other.”
When Beautiful closed, Salisha was thinking “will I ever work again? Was my one shot in Beautiful? I was unemployed for the first time in my life.” But soon, multiple opportunities arrived, and Salisha chose the opportunity to be in the original cast of Once Upon a One More Time, the Britney Spears musical. She started rehearsals in early 2020 and “the world shut down 11 days into rehearsal. Within two weeks, one by one, half of my cast tested positive for COVID-19. I was kind of just sitting in my apartment waiting to be next.” But fortunately, Salisha was safe and remembers the first two weeks of rehearsal being absolutely awesome. She hasn’t even seen the second act yet, but knows this show is unique and will be spectacular.
But the pandemic brought a new venture into Salisha’s life – she started a podcast Black Hair in the Big Leagues. “I thought about what I can talk about all day every day. In the dressing room we always talk about hair. And one night I dreamt the name Black Hair in the Big Leagues. Within a month I had scheduled 15 to 20 people on the calendar to interview.” Salisha’s biggest drive to keep scheduling new guests for the podcast has been her lack of one-on-one human interaction during the pandemic. All her interviews feel like having coffee with a friend and are authentic conversations. You really get to feel like you’re sitting right there in the dressing room with Salisha and her guests.
The topics discussed range from discussing career and Broadway journeys to hair journeys and guests range from Broadway stars to recording artists to the reigning Miss USA (did we mention that Salisha is a former Miss California?) Authentic conversations are of the utmost importance to Salisha, especially when it comes to hair. “There are different things Black people have to do with our wig preps so we can look fabulous too. It needs to be where I’m not an anomaly. Let’s normalize big natural hair.”
Salisha just wants that dressing room feeling back. In her own words, she’s “sitting down with badass black women and men having dressing room conversations about hair. But black people talking about hair is a gateway into how we are showing up in the world on and off the stage.”
A big challenge for Salisha so far has been believing that this is something she is meant to do. “I love talking to people and I always have a million questions I write out. But my best interviews are always the ones where I don’t use my notes. It’s sometimes scary, even though I can edit out awkward pauses. I have to let go and trust myself that I can have a conversation without notes. And I don’t edit my stuttering because that’s what I sound like. That’s the real me.”
Her experience and positive reception inspired her to start a second podcast called Broadway Bible School in which Salisha reads and tells the stories of the Bible.
What’s been on Salisha’s mind during the pandemic? “First of all, when is Broadway coming back? All of a sudden I was alone in my apartment. I’m in my favorite city and I don’t want to be by myself. But I have no family here. Don’t even have a dog. It’s time to reprioritize. I’m also slowly getting over my sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). Learning to be like I don’t want to do that and learning to say no and being done with something and not feeling the need to stick around longer than I need to. Being upfront and setting boundaries. Keeping the priorities I’ve made during this pandemic when we come out is what’s going to be really important for me.”