Molly Scharlin Ben-Hamoo embraces her inner weird
Senior dramatic writing major Molly Scharlin divulges about her upcoming multimedia extravaganza “Boohbah: The Rise and Fall of an Empire” and unconventional artistic process.
October 22, 2021
Editor’s Note: This conversation was condensed for length and clarity.
Airing from the years 2003 to 2006, the British children’s television series “Boohbah” and its mute, fuzzy creatures who exercise in space could’ve been lost to the sands of time — but for NYU student Molly Scharlin Ben-Hamoo, it’s a source of divine inspiration.
“It’s literally the most terrifying show I’ve ever seen,” Scharlin said in a coffee shop between classes. “I just had to come up with a title and make a project about it, whatever it’s going to be.”
The title in question is “Boohbah: The Rise and Fall of an Empire,” Scharlin’s upcoming interactive theatrical experience that she’s creating with 10 collaborators. Her friends and Instagram followers are also a part of the show’s conception, as they’re encouraged to follow clues and updates on the @boohbah_riseandfall Instagram profile. Although the event and its many moving parts seem to possess an air of practiced confidence, it’s completely outside of Scharlin’s comfort zone.
“I am usually just a writer and have only been interested in behind the scenes stuff,” Scharlin said. “I’ve never written anything like this before or worked with this many people on one project … it’s all one big thought experiment for me.”
Scharlin grew up in Aspen, Colorado, where streets and restaurants were deserted during off-season months, which made writing the perfect way to kill time. Though most kids enjoyed outdoor activities such as hiking or skiing, Scharlin was more of an introvert whose three siblings, including a fraternal twin, left her seeking an outlet for creative expression and self discovery.
“My mind just wandered a lot,” Scharlin said. “I was always floating between groups in high school so I felt slightly misunderstood by everyone, and I was always compared to my twin who’s extremely smart — so I just decided I’d be the funny one. I actually ended up being the only person who was into writing in high school.”
This distinctive space Scharlin carved out for herself led her to the dramatic writing program at the Tisch School of the Arts where she mainly focuses on writing dark comedy pilots. Though her scripts can be far from reality at times, the thematic threads in most of her writing tend to touch upon some personal truth for Scharlin, the production of “Boohbah” included.
“It all started when I rediscovered ‘Boohbah,’ Scharlin said. “My siblings remember me watching it when I was around 2 years old, so I of course didn’t remember it, but I was genuinely shocked by how scary it was … It got me thinking about how we passively view children’s programming, and how we don’t assign any meaning to it. Watching it now, all I see is writers clearly hooked on psychedelics … I feel like I wanted to put something on that represents that loss of innocence, or when everything starts to become sort of perverted.”
Intrigued by the idea of how darkness can muddle itself into nostalgia, Scharlin came up with her show’s snappy title in May 2021. When she finally landed on the concept, she decided to immediately announce the project before even beginning to write it. The promotional poster for “Boohbah: The Rise and Fall of an Empire” shows Scharlin posed in front of a cloudy blue background and wearing glasses with “Boohbah” characters photoshopped into the lenses. Soon after uploading the poster onto her Instagram account, a ton of her artistically-inclined friends and peers responded.
“It’s cool how into it all my friends have been,” Scharlin said. “Writing is usually such a solitary activity, but I want to push myself … I’m surrounded by a lot of talented and super motivated people so it always makes me want to do the same sort of things they’ve been doing. My friends are going to do stuff like set design and music production.”
She described the potential set design to be both colorful and psychedelic, with five actors wearing simplistic costumes to represent the main “Boohbah” characters.
“It’s just going to be a fun opportunity to just let loose and collaborate on something bizarre,” Scharlin said.
As excited as Scharlin is about the event, she stayed quiet when pressed for even more details about the project. She wants the audience to figure out what the event is right alongside her.
“I want to maintain an element of surprise, and I’m still working out the mechanics, but it’s going to be an immersive experience, similar to that of watching ‘Boohbah’ on YouTube and feeling like you’re on drugs,” Scharlin said. “It’s going to have improv along with pre-written parts … it’s one big party in a weird way.”
This unconventional method of working backwards is actually pretty standard for an artist like Scharlin. She cites her anxiety as her driving inspiration.
“It forces me to do the work,” Scharlin said. “I often tell my friends and my family that I’m working on something even if I haven’t touched my computer. It makes me motivated to not make it a lie anymore. I come up with the title first 90% of the time and just write whatever fits into that concept. I need that type of structure.”
Despite working backward, there’s a surprising rigidity to the way Scharlin works. For an artist so enamored with darker, conflicting feelings, the strict routine of her schedule is actually what allows her to explore her strangest ideas freely. In a competitive program that demands generation of endless content, Scharlin isn’t afraid to admit that ideas don’t happen naturally all of the time.
“I mean, you get so caught up in the professional grind where you think you have to be writing all the time in order to make it in the real world,” Scharlin said. “I had to get out of that mentality and make small goals for myself that will hopefully work out for a project like this.”
A project like “Boohbah” feels strangely pure when thinking about the monetary pressures young artists face and often consider when trying to create. Besides the consistent references to psychedelics, Scharlin has a relaxed approach to the way she’s beginning this project.
“What’s been really fun to me is getting into the mind of a 2-year-old, that’s why I write in general,” Scharlin said. “I started when I was 15 and everything was just more simple and I was doing this for fun, and now I’m graduating and there’s this pressure to find a job but the work doesn’t have to feel that way … there’s literally no way that ‘Boohbah’ can have any financial success anyways because its just so bizarre, and it’s not necessarily what I want to do in the future for my career or anything, so it’s something that I don’t think has to be that deep and it will hopefully be funny and people will like it.”
At Tisch, it’s taught that art is an industry and you have to find your place within it. While Scharlin acknowledges that this aspect is true and important to think about, she makes a salient point when discussing her project.
“I mean I’ll probably be working as an assistant out of graduation which might not be something I’m exactly passionate about, so creating art for art’s sake and not just for networking or advancing my career during those periods of my life is really all I’ll have,” Scharlin said.
The unconventionality within her work and artistic process is a culmination of both her time training as a writer at NYU and being a student during the height of quarantine in 2020. Though the initial weirdness of a project like “Boohbah” could be questionable to passing onlookers, the project actually makes for a perfect tribute to the resilience and the radical shapeshifting artists had to do during a difficult period.
“Post-pandemic, you realize how bad things can actually get, and it’s such a privilege to be an artist and a college student,” Scharlin said. “I just had to realize that it’s a thing that makes people happy.”
Remembering the past and being able to freely interpret the future is what Scharlin is doing with her project. She’s pulling in fragments of different mediums, platforms and the creativity of her peers in order to rectify her contrasting ideas — all while relinquishing the things she can’t control.
“It doesn’t have to be that deep in the grand scheme of things,” Scharlin said. “It’s not logical to think about if my script is Emmy-worthy or not, I’ll ideally be able to do this for my career and it’ll be great. But for now, I just want to be able to just breathe and make shit.”
Contact Isabella Armus at [email protected]