The entertainment collective known as the Haus of Mimosa consists of Anita Buffem and Gina Maria Rittale, who both serve as emcees, drag queens, and fully-realized fictional characters all at once. Rarely performing in traditional nightlife venues, the Haus instead cornered the market during the early 2000s in what were considered unusual gigs at the time: brunches and bingo at not-necessarily-gay venues, private and corporate events, and festivals all over the country. In the meantime, they built a massive internet presence with social media, podcasts and webcasts, and recently even joined the Sherry Vine YouTube comedy conglomerate SVTV.
But all good things come to end, and it looks like after a about a decade the Haus is winding down operations… and Anita (aka Travis) is reestablishing herself as a solo act. She’s off to a good start with several high profile DJ gigs… let’s see what else in store for the amazing Anita Buffem!
Thotyssey: Hi Anita, happy holidays! I see that the Haus of Mimosa–the longtime drag collective consisting of you and Gina Marie Rittale–is gearing up for a gig in Tulsa, Oklahoma on December 4th. You two always get the most interesting gigs. How did this one come about?
Anita Buffem: Yeah, we have always played very different venues, which I love.
Tulsa came about from our brunch show. We had a table of producers from the musical Waitress, which was so cool for us, especially Gina Marie given [her boy self] Steven’s musical theater background. They would come to our show any time they were in town, and a couple of them are from Tulsa and own a really cool venue out there called MixCo. We got a call from them last spring asking if we’d ever consider bringing our show out there. Our first weekend in Tulsa we sold out three shows in two hours, which lead to us being asked back with our Holiday Spectacular show.
That sounds amazing! Is this generally how you gals get gigs like that (right place right time), or do people come to you through your social media? Or do you research what’s going on in the country, and who might have need of the Haus?
Ya know, I have been fortunate in that way. I get calls and emails asking us to bring our shows to all these unique places, sometimes from our YouTube (I also have a web-series on Sherry Vine’s gaySVTVworld) or our podcast (Haus Of Mimosa: The podcast, In The Buff: The Podcast) or my other social media.
I’d love to continue to travel, especially now that I have been DJing this past year. I really want to go out west: Austin, or South Florida…DJ poolside parties, which is my favorite.
The Haus of Mimosa has made quite a name for itself as this multimedia drag entertainment franchise, with private and large scale gigs all over the place and this enormous social media presence. But you’ve always remained kinda fascinatingly to the left of traditional NYC nightlife (i.e. late night bar gigs). Was that a conscious choice, or did things just evolve that way?
Ya know, I have to be honest. For a long time, we felt like we weren’t included. And maybe that’s me feeling self-conscious or insecure. But whatever it was, it led us down the path we went down.
Until more recently, my focus was the live music (I music direct and produce our live tracks) and the “writing” of our comedy and our characters, and the drag part was secondary. We had no idea what we were doing when it came to makeup and making costumes. We didn’t have drag mothers, so I taught myself everything. Given all of that, it was easy to let the “look” not be the focus. Now, I have fallen in love with makeup and cosmetics and beauty. I love putting my looks together.
I would love to be more of a fixture in the traditional nightlife scene, and I am open to that. I am just following the path that the universe is laying out for me. Does that make sense?
Sure! What sort of way do you see yourself coming into “traditional” nightlife?
I love girl groups and harmonies. I have a vision of putting together a drag girl group with some of the fiercest NYC nightlife performers.
Thant would be Uh-Mazing. Before we get into Anita and Gina Marie and post-Haus, let’s get to your origin story. Where’s your hometown, and what were your early interests?
Well, I grew up in a really small town outside of Syracuse, NY called Cazenovia. Growing up wasn’t always easy–like most kids, I’m sure. My parents divorced when I was five, and I didn’t see my dad much. My mom had had polio when she was a child, so I was in a situation where I knew I was different (helping take care of my mom), and didn’t have anyone I could relate to.
I found my “people” and my release in music and performing, but even though I was doing the local talent show or the school musical I wasn’t a Broadway kid, so even there I felt like an outsider. Different. I knew I was meant for more than what the small town life had to offer.
I was obsessed with all kinds of music from the Cranberries, to the Phantom of the Opera and the Spice Girls.
That’s a great foundation!
When did you come to NYC, and what brought you here?
I was 22. I had just signed with some management as singer, which came from being on the second season of the TV show PopStars. Which, like, no one watched. I had a backpack and a $200 savings bond, and I slept on a friend’s couch for about six months in Brooklyn till she was like, “It’s time for you to go.” [Laughs] thank God for her, though!
I remember PopStars! What was that experience like for you?
Embarrassing…? [Laughs] no. I did pretty well and made it to the final round before they picked the five that would be in the group. I was young and unsure of myself, so watching it back can be painful. I got comments from viewers like “he’s so gay,” and that was hard to navigate being so young. All in all, it led me to NYC, so I am really grateful for that.
Ugh, let’s talk about haters on the Internet for a sec… I know you and Gina have tons of fans, but because your online presence is so vast I’m sure you get some trolls and terrible people. How do you deal?
NO! Lets not give haters any more attention more than I just did! [Laughs] Actually, I don’t get much hate. But when I do, I think to myself, “I’ve made it!”
So, how did you meet Gina Marie, and what got the gears turning for the Haus of Mimosa initially?
I was doing a podcast that was like talk radio…and the show was totally boring. As a kid, I also made up a lot of characters and did impressions, so I started incorporating that into the podcast.
Steven (Gina Marie) worked with my best friend who moved to NYC to be with me from Buffalo, NY. (Shout out to Maria! I love you! You saved my life!)
One day, Steven and I were in my apartment bored as hell, and of course there just happened to be two wigs laying around. We threw them on and filmed ourselves on my webcam. We just started talking like these Long Island, over the top Italian ladies. We thought we were SOOOO funny. I said, lets put these characters on the podcast!
They became fan favorites on the podcast, and long story short we wrote a 90-minute stage show about the characters and started performing at different cabaret spots around New York. That led to us being asked to do a brunch, and host a bingo, and the rest is history.
Another thing that sets you two apart from most other drag queens–like you’ve just said–is that Anita & Gina Marie are fully realized characters, not just heightened versions of yourselves. You have character traits and ongoing back stories. Were you more of the writer of these, or did you each write your own girl’s stuff?
It was definitely a collaboration. Steven and I are like a yin and yang in that were both different, and we have different talents and skills. And when we come together, you get the best of both. I play a leadership and director role, and definitely like creating stories for us. A lot of or stories come from real life experiences, and we will heighten them.
Steven will share a story with me, and because a lot of our storytelling is improv, I will bring that story up as if it happened to one of us, on stage…without Steven having any knowledge that I was going to do that [laughs].
The format of our show is that Anita will start a story (usually something embarrassing about Gina Marie) and Gina Marie reacts. And because 90% of our shows are improv, it’s always different.
And is staying in character ever difficult when you’re performing at gigs?
Well, at this point now there’s like an ebb and flow. If I’m doing a stage show, then it’s Anita the character to the full extent. If I am DJ’ing or hosting an event, then its more Travis the comedian/singer, and Anita is the vehicle that makes that happen. Does that make sense?
About a year or so ago,we had a sold out gig in Toronto and Steven got food poisoning. The venue had sold actual paper tickets, and had no way of contacting the ticket holders, so I went as Anita and for the first time performed on my own. It was an amazing experience for me, and that’s where I had this awakening that Anita could be anything I wanted her to be. There’s no limit for me, really, with where I can go. And Anita has been an amazing way to do that, and that wasn’t fully realized until that moment.
So, on top of doing private and corporate gigs, you two were doing lots of (at the time) unconventional gigs like bingo and drag brunch (hence “Mimosa!”) Your big brunches were at Boxers HK and KTCHN at the Out Hotel. Since then, it seems like drag brunch exploded, and every queen has a brunch gig now. Were you two like “WTF” when that started happening?
[Laughs] We did notice it…but I can’t say we invented drag brunch. Places like Lips had been doing it for years. We have also noticed a lot of queens pairing up as well. I think it’s great. There is SO much drag out there… seems like everyone and there brother now has a gig somewhere, so it is nice to see the variety of queens pairing up and creating different types of shows together. Fuckin’ bitches. Just kidding!
So how did you two and queen of queens Sherry Vine discover each other?
We have a mutual friend, and one day she showed up at one of our shows…can you imagine!? I had no Idea, and we come out to our opening number and there–smack dab, front and center–sits drag legends Sherry Vine and Jackie Beat. I could have died.
Sherry then called me up and told me she was putting together an all-gay YouTube channel with content created and performed by our LGBT community. She asked if I would create a show for it, and of course I jumped at the opportunity.
So the Haus of Mimosa had a long and fabulous run, but things are winding down now. Stephen/Gina got a dream day job, and you’re prepare to carry on as a solo girl.
I feel so excited about the future and all that’s going on. As a kid, I used to DJ, but never thought it would be part of my career. And when I got the call asking about hiring me as a “Drag DJ” for a select number of dates out at The Pines two summers ago, I was like, “Okay universe, I hear you!”
I’m also working with a PR person on my beauty brand, which has started with the relaunch of my YouTube, Buffem Beautiful. I review products, fashions, and have even started a personal blog series about a recently diagnosed health issue I am working through. The feedback has been great, and I have this new found excitement for YouTube and creating content for both Buffem Beautiful and my new series with Sherry, “The Anita Buffem Show.”
You’ve DJing some tea dances several times over the past few months at the Asbury Hotel. How have you enjoyed that experience, and the venue?
I love it!
Will you be DJing there again?
It is the slow season over there, but I have some private events coming up: lots of corporate and holiday/New Years gigs, and even a wedding! I’ll be back at the Asbury DJing December 16th (use code “mimosa” for special room rates) and there are some January and February dates as well.
The Asbury is amazing and such a great getaway from the city. They always have something going on including lots of LGBT friendly events.
Nice… and before that, the Haus of Mimosa will be doing a brunch there on December 11th! Is that your last scheduled brunch together ever?
Ugh. You’re making me emotional.
I’m sorry, gurl!
No no, it’s okay. I love what we have created together, and it’s been my life for almost 10 years, so the thought of it being done is like…ya know…hard for me. i would also like to say that Steven and I are still very close. We’re roommates. We are brothers, and always will be. We share something that we don’t have with anyone else, and I love him very much.
As of right now, this December 11th is our last scheduled show on the calendar. But I don’t believe it will be the last performance ever. We do have inquiries about shows in the new year, so it is possible there will be more Anita & Gina together in the near future.
You’ve created a wonderful legacy, but like you’ve said, what is on the horizon for you is so exciting! So as a DJ, what music is getting you through this emotional transition?
I love music! I play whatever. I’m not one for sticking to one BPM or type of music. Ill go from early 80’s stuff to a Blondie/The Doors mashup, to 90’s dance, then Beyonce and Missy Elliot.
What’s been a big DJ moment for you so far?
I like to play to the crowd and feel it out. I walked in thinking I was going to play one type of music, and it became something completely different by the end of the night.
Finally it Has Happened to You! That’s amazing. And right now we actually don’t have a lot of great, working drag DJs in the city. Would you be interested in using deejaying as a way to finally merge with the core of nightlife in NYC?
OF COURSE! I like to interact with my crowd as well, which is why Poolside High Tea has been so amazing for me. I like to bring a fun, stylish-but-comfortable vibe, and right now I think we need more of that. “Everyone is welcome, this is just fun, life isn’t that serious” type of vibe. Lets just celebrate life, each other, and connect on a level that I think only music and positivity can help make happen.
Excelsior has been amazing! One of our favorite weekly gigs we have ever done. Richard and Mark are so supportive, and treat us like superstars. The community there is also amazing. We have regulars every week, which makes performances even more fun because we feel like everyone is on the jokes with us.
Always a good time! Okay, last question: Tis the season, so what is your Christmas Wish for Anita and/or the World?
Well, I’d say particularly for this year, I’d like everyone to remember that while they are fighting the good fight, to make sure they’re doing it in love. It’s easy to go to anger when we are fighting to protect our rights and our future, but anger will consume you and we won’t get heard. Also, Id like for everyone to come see me and follow me on my new journey!
And presents. I’d like everyone to go to my Amazon Wishlist and buy me lots of presents! Gift cards from Mac….Sephora….Neiman Marcus. I’ll take anything! Oh! Designer bags! AND DIAMONDS!!!!
I hope you’ve got a huge stocking on the mantle, Anita! Thanks so much, and have fun with all your future prospects!
Anita Buffem continues (for now) to co-host–with her Haus of Mimosa partner Gina Marie Rittale–High Tea Bingo at Excelsior on Sundays (6pm). The Haus will also host a final brunch at the Asbury Hotel on December 11th (11am-4pm). DJ Anita Buffem will spin a tea dance at the Asbury on December 16th (7pm), and will return there for as-yet-unspecified dates in January and February. Anita podcasts In The Buff on Soundcloud periodically, and hosts Buffem Beautiful and The Anita Buffem Show on YouTube. She can also be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr and the Haus of Mimosa’s website.