New play “Bohemian Flats” explores slice of city’s past

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March 18, 2013
By: Leah Smith//Murphy News Service-University of Minnesota
Leah Smith//Murphy News Service-University of Minnesota

Set with the timeline back to 1869, director and writer Liz Neerland is out with a new play at the nimbus Theater — “Bohemian Flats,” a story that takes place just beneath Minneapolis’ Washington Avenue bridge.

The play focuses on the area by the Mississippi River under the Washington Avenue bridge known as the Bohemian Flats where residents from various European countries lived.

 “The play is not traditional,” Neerland said, “but more like vignettes, or slices, of the lives of the people who worked in the mills and lived on the busy river.”

The story spans the entire history of the Bohemian Flats from the first settlers in 1869 to the last resident during evictions in 1932.  Neerland said her objective is to show the lives of Minneapolis immigrants through different characters and the events that took place in their daily lives.

“It’s a fascinating portion of our history that is not well-known,” Neerland said.

Neerland will show “slices” of life, including women during their daily cooking and cleaning by the mighty river, a wedding that takes place in the Flats, the river flooding every year and events that effected the mill and factory workers, such as the 1878 Pillsbury plant explosion.

“They had their lives here,” she said. “This was a starting point for them.”

Neerland said she had the idea for the play because she drove past the small park, empty except for a few pieces of the old bridge, with the strange name of “Bohemian Flats.”  Once she did a little digging, the story took on a personal angle as well.  Neerland discovered that her great-grandparents emigrated from Norway and settled a few blocks away from a lumber mill in the 1880s.

For more than 60 years, immigrants formed a community that weathered every storm except the eventual and demanding change of progress.  The city wanted to use the Bohemian Flats storage dock sites for coal, which was increasingly being used, Neerland said, and to build shipping terminals on the bank of the Mississippi River that allowed easy access to the increasingly industrialized river.  After an ownership dispute about who owned the Bohemian Flats land, the city won and evicted all of its residents.

“There used to be several hundred houses in the Bohemian Flats and now, where they lived, is an empty, grassy park,” Neerland said.

Leah Smith is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.

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IF YOU GO

 

What: “Bohemian Flats,” written and directed by Liz Neerland. 

Where: The nimbus Theater, 1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis

When: March 16 – April 7, with tickets available at 612-548-1380 or www.nimbustheatre.com

How much: $10 to $18

How to reach: email: info@nimbustheatre.com phone: 612-548-1379