New film celebrates history of Fredericton drama troupe Characters Inc.

To mark the 35th anniversary of the song and dance group’s inception, local filmmaker and past member of Characters Inc. Kirk Pennell decided to make a documentary.

After-school group garnered international acclaim in 1990s

An old jacket worn by members of song and dance group Characters Inc., which originated as an after-school drama group at Nashwaaksis Junior High in Fredericton in the 1980s. (CBC )

Being part of Characters Inc. was one of the highlights of Kirk Pennell's life growing up in Fredericton.

To mark the 35th anniversary of the song and dance group's inception, the local filmmaker decided to make a documentary.

The one hour piece, We Are Characters Incorporated, screened at the Fredericton Playhouse on Friday evening.

The group was founded by teacher Philip Sexsmith as an after-school drama club at Nashwaaksis Junior High. Eventually, the group attracted international attention, touring the globe promoting Canadian culture.

The film features interviews with several members of the group, as well as archival footage and photos.

Not your average drama group 

In doing close to 30 interviews for the documentary, Pennell said he realized that the way he felt about Characters Inc. was the way almost everyone who participated in it felt.

Local filmmaker Kirk Pennell said he made the documentary, We Are Characters Incorporated, to show how important the drama group was to students who took part in it 20 years ago.
 

"There's something about what this group was. It wasn't just your after-school drama club," he said.

"Just this majestic feeling of family, and belonging. You just wanted to be a part of it."

The group was active for about 15 years, wrapping up performances in 1997.

At one point, Characters Inc. performed in front of 50,000 people at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, then known as the Skydome.

Pennell said he wanted to make the documentary to highlight the importance of what teachers like Sexsmith do for kids.

"I wasn't a sports kid, I got picked last for things, but when I was in Characters, I felt this sense of belonging," he said.

"He did it in his spare time, and I can't imagine the responsibilities of what he did."