RuPaul is arguably the best-known drag queen in the United States, which is to say he is probably the only female impersonator the average American can name. That, however, is slowly changing: Starting in 2009, RuPaul has hosted his Logo reality TV show Drag Race, a sort of America's Next Top Model for drag performers.
As with most contest shows, fame doesn't always land squarely on the head of the official winner; often runners up have significant fan bases, at least enough fans for at least one post-show national tour.
Latrice Royale is one of these much-loved runners up (she placed fourth overall in the 2012 season; Sharon Needles was that year's winner). Her's is a commanding presence—hair teased out and twisted like a lion in heat; layer upon layer of large sequined gowns torn off with flailing arms and, yet somehow composed, after landing the splits. The Florida-based drag queen has spent 20 years spent honing the craft, but it was the 11 episodes on Drag Race that has launched national fame.
"She demands attention and when she walks into a room she owns it," says Portland-based producer Justin Buckles, who is bringing Latrice to Bend for the first time with a queer cabaret troupe called Caravan of Glam. "Latrice has traveled the world and is a huge celebrity in the LGBTQ community. She's becoming more and more mainstream as the months go by and soon I suspect you'll see her face everywhere."
But this is not a one-queen show. The Caravan of Glam cast includes co-host and drag queen Ecstacy Inferno, dancer Isaiah Tillman, burlesque Tana The Tattooed Lady. Ecstacy Inferno describes herself as "Portland's own hood rat drag queen," but the triple threat also lends her powerful vocals and choreography skills to local theatre productions. Isaiah Tillman, formerly of the male burlesque group Burlesquire, is a professional dancer who recently returned from a residency in Jamaica and has performed his unique blend of hip-hop, burlesque, and drag as far away as Norway. Tana the Tattooed Lady in an international burlesque star, recently named "Hottest Body in Burlesque" by Satan's Angel (a living legend in the world of burlesque) and "Hardest Working Woman in Showbiz" by Barfly Magazine.
The tour was first conceived during last year's Central Oregon Pride when promoter Buckles realized that Bend was lacking in LGBTQ entertainment.
"On the drive back to Portland I realized that there was a need for more LGBTQ events in cities outside of Portland. I figured that if this was happening in Central Oregon it was more than likely happening in cities all over the State of Oregon," explains Buckles, who recently returned to Portland from Los Angeles and has worked as a production manager/coordinator for "American Idol," "So You Think You Can Dance," and a slew of shows for VH1, MTV, and the E! Network.
Since its launch, the Caravan of Glam has traveled to Vancouver, Wash., Medford and Salem, and has shows planned for Ashland, Eugene and Lincoln City. As for Bend, Buckles says he's been so impressed by the city's support that he's making it a bimonthly event—currently planned for the second Saturday of every other month at Liquid Lounge (depending on that venue's future).
The cast for each show changes nightly; the best bet for catching Latrice Royal is at the inaugural Caravan of Glam in Bend on Nov. 9.
"When you produce reoccurring LGBTQ events in smaller communities it opens the eyes, ears, and opinions of those who may be closed off to the idea of anything LGBTQ," Buckles explains. "Hopefully, it will help the community as a whole come together and support each other instead of dividing each other."
Caravan of Glam, Seven Nightclub, 7 pm, $30 VIP, $20 general, tickets available online and at the door (use code "pilot butte" to avoid day-of ticket price increase).