COOS BAY — Coos Bay native Justin Buckles will bring his Caravan of Glam, which he calls an event of “pure entertainment,” to his hometown in June.
The Caravan — similar to Cirque du Soleil, except with drag performers — will present two shows at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, June 11. One is an all-ages circus-themed show, and the other is the 21 and older “Freak Show.”
“This is a come-as-you-are event,” Buckles said. “We're a very body-positive group. My performers are all shapes, sizes, from different backgrounds. Some are wealthy, others are dirt poor. We represent all walks of life. If you want to dress up, dress as a clown, or dress in drag, then do it.”
Buckles was born and raised in Coos Bay, but when he turned 21 high-tailed it to Los Angeles without a plan and without a job. He quickly made career connections and soon started working on "American Idol" and then "So You Think You Can Dance" as production coordinator and production manager.
“But I got tired of LA,” Buckles said. “I'm an Oregon boy, and you can't get much nature or weather in LA, so I packed my bags and moved to Portland.”
He tried jumping into producing events there, but after every interview was told he was overqualified. When he got tired of hearing that, he decided to do his own thing.
“I decided on drag because it is one of the strongest art forms I've ever come across,” Buckles said. “You create a brand new performer, a new person. When they aren't in drag, they are different in how they speak, their interests. But I think any time you're on stage, you have to create a new character. It's not like they're just putting on pasties and doing the shimmy shake.”
Buckles thought it would be new and cool to create a touring production that encompasses circus, dance, live singing, drag, and burlesque, as well as aerobatics and aerial performances. He and a friend, longtime drag performer Ecstasy Inferno, put the pieces together and did the first show in September 2013. It was in Portland and drew a crowd of over 100 people.
Two months later, he and Inferno put on a three-city tour and sold out all the shows.
“We now go to 12 states,” Buckles said. “It is exhausting, but I am very proud. Anything you create and watch grow, you can't help but be overjoyed by it. I put the vision down on paper, and got it done because I am fiercely determined and very persistent and that's how you get stuff done.”
Performer Jayla Rose joined the caravan on their second show when it first opened in Medford. She had known Ecstasy Inferno from working together in the same clubs and bars, and when she joined the Caravan of Glam troupe, “we all bonded together as friends and became a really strong team.”
“We go to small towns and cities where there's not much outlook for the LGBTQ community,” Rose said, “and just need allies to let loose and be entertained. All we preach is love.”
Of the impact the show has had on fans, Rose remembers a woman approaching her after one performance and thanking her profusely.
“The type of performing I do and the fact that I am a thicker woman gave her the self-esteem to be confident in who she is,” Rose said. “This happens from adults to the little kids we meet, and it's fun to incorporate kids in our performances, bring them on stage, and see them in awe because they see sparkles and pretty makeup.”
Buckles said audiences should expect the unexpected, but that the Caravan of Glam has something for every demographic.
“It is very important that you can bring your 5-year-old to the show,” Buckles said. “We've even had a 94-year-old with her walker and was out dancing. She came up after and said she hasn't had that much fun since the 70s.”
Pre-show tickets can be purchased at www.caravanofglam.com.
“Why not go?” Rose said. “You have nothing to lose.”