Circle Game 

Local musician examines the labyrinth of relationship dynamics in new pop-rock opera

Local musician examines the labyrinth of relationship dynamics in new pop-rock opera

Flying Thru the Fish Bowl

Presented by 4P

July 8-10 at the

Darkhorse Theater

Relationships, love, loneliness. The patterns of our interpersonal lives are both constant and ever-changing. Do we ever really learn anything? If we do, are we able to take those lessons and apply them to the next phase of our closest social interactions? These and other questions about the human condition are the focus of Flying Thru the Fish Bowl, Michael Paul's original pop-rock opera, which makes its world premiere this weekend at the Darkhorse Theater.

Paul, a guitarist, composer and music teacher, is a graduate of MTSU's Recording Industry program, and has recently created a business entity called 4P, named for the key disciplines used in merging art and business: publishing, production, promotion and performance. He's also the marketing manager for the Bluebird Cafe, a position that keeps him in the loop in the Nashville music scene. But what has really been driving Paul for the past 20 years is the music he's been writing, all inspired by the ups and downs of his own somewhat erratic life.

"I was married at 20, had three children, then went through a divorce nine years later," Paul says. "It was a rocky road. Along the way I lost a son, and the very same day my brother broke his neck and was paralyzed. All this kind of stuff put me in situations that I was compelled to write about. This musical piece is the culmination of all those years when I wasn't able to perform while I was being a husband and father."

Divorce may be a pretty common experience these days, but that never seems to diminish its impact on the parties involved. Paul exemplifies the difficulties of readjustment. "For three years afterwards, I was completely alone," he continues, "and it just about killed me. When I was in my 20s, when most people go through the experimental aspects of meeting people, I had been married. Suddenly I was an adult in my 30s and going into new relationships. I tried to recapture my childhood and tried to figure out what I had missed. I learned a lot of hard lessons, and that's what I wrote about."

Before his personal life became so complicated, Paul had studied music in the Milwaukee area, where he first was exposed to the fairly unusual technique of tuning his guitar to perfect fourths, in the tradition of jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan.

"I had played for five years in standard tuning," says Paul. "Within a semester, I had retrained myself to play in perfect fourths. Later, I went off to teach myself how to play exclusively in this method because it seemed much more logical to me." (When a guitar is tuned to perfect fourths, the relationship of strings to fretboard allows more consistently similar fingering patterns, much like piano theory. All the songs in Fish Bowl were written in this tuning.)

Bassist Tony Greco and drummer Brian Hartman join Paul to perform the opera's score, which features 30 songs. Paul also has a lead singing role, more or less playing his real-life self while also serving as the linchpin figure for nine other singers, who represent average individuals rocking and reeling in the age of dubious commitment. The cast comprises an amalgam of local music industry and theater performers, including Sally Snyder, Julie Meirick, Michelle Edwards, Lana New, Dina Rae Capitani, Johnny Todd, Shannon Leigh, Lorne Book and Daniel Vincent.

"The characters are pieces of me, pieces of you," says Paul. "Their stories represent in a flamboyant way the forces that are always fighting within us. We seem to make the same mistakes over and over again. For me, the only way to get past it was to be alone, and to be okay with that. The way our society is set up, you get into married life or a relationship, and there's always that other person who 'completes' you. You can never see who you really are till you can get beyond that long enough."

To be sure, Paul isn't the first songwriter to draw upon personal experience for inspiration. But he's found a viable, if somewhat unusual, medium for getting at the heart of the contemporary issue of identity.

"The central theme to the opera concerns the loneliness factor," he says. "To me, that's the thing that has a way of pushing us in and out of these relationships that have us going around in circles. We don't want to admit our loneliness, but everyone feels it—and it's the thing that seems to send us into the next relationship and the one after that. Take Friday nights: Are you going to spend it at home, and if you are, how does that feel to you? I had to actually force myself to realize that Friday's not really different than any other day or night. It's just this game my mind plays, because I don't want to feel alone. Fish Bowl is about overcoming the loneliness that drives us into making the same mistakes over and over again."

The mystery of human relational dynamics will probably remain just that for most of us. For now, Michael Paul has invested 100 long-overdue minutes of music and lyrics into examining the issue through the prism of his own life. It's just possible he's found an answer or two.

Flying Thru the Fish Bowl will have four performances, including a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 268-7551 or visit


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