The darling of both British and American stages, by the age of 19 Annie Russell was already frustrated by playing roles known as "Annie Russell parts." In other words, even in 1883, being a household name wasn't all it was cracked up to be, especially when one's talents and intelligence stretched beyond the imagination of one's producers. Annie Russell may have been the "perfect ingénue," but she had plenty more to offer to the world.
After 900 performances in the title role of William Gillette and F. H. Burnett's immensely successful Esmeralda , she stepped off the New York stage to recover her health and her calling. Her return to the stage in 1894 heralded a period of great creative success in her life, playing in a number of new plays including Bret Harte's Sue . In 1905, Miss Russell returned to the London stage as the heroine of Shaw's Major Barbara in its first production. From 1912 until her retirement in 1918, Miss Russell organized the Olde English Comedy Company in which she directed and acted memorably the works of Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Sheridan, and others.
Miss Russell's retirement in Winter Park was not to be a quiet one. The urging of her good friend Mary Curtis Bok Zimbalist convinced her to become involved in the nascent dramatic arts program at Rollins College. The collaboration of these two powerful friends became the spiritual foundation of the current program and the literal foundation of one of the most beautiful architectural structures in Central Florida, the Annie Russell Theatre. Built in 1931 with funding from Mrs. Zimbalist, the "Annie" serves as the heart of the oldest theatre program in Florida and one of the most prestigious in America.. In 1998, the National Parks Service named the theater to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its architecture and its role in education and the performing arts.
Annie Russell died in 1936. However, the Annie Russell Theatre continues to serve the vision and aspiration shared by Annie Russell and her friend Mary Curtis Bok Zimbalist: collaboration, creativity, education, and discipline.
Not only do all the arts combine to a perfect dramatic expression but all audiences as well. A play without an understanding audience is only half a play.
It rests with the women of America to take the theatre and its artists more seriously; to give more appreciation to art and less to personality and novelty; more attention to the significant qualities of fine acting than to little tricks and mannerisms
I am a star of course and my name is in big letters on the wall, but I have not given expression to all that I can do, to all that I can feel. I am always a student. I shall never stop thinking, studying, learning, as long as I live. There is much to do, so much to express, such worlds of artistic beauty.