Annie Russell Theatre

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A Spirit is still an enthusiastic audience member;

During a paranormal investigation, spirits stepped forward to answer questions!



The Annie Russell Theatre is “the longest continuously operating theater in Florida; staging an exciting season of musicals and plays that feature student performers.”

Annie Russell Theatre is a three hundred and seventy-five seat playhouse that is truly beautiful. On July 15th, 1998, folks from the U.S. National Register of Historic Places agreed, and put it on their prestigious register.

The U.S. National Register of Historic Places has a great site online where the application forms of most of the structures listed are made public knowledge, and researchers can read about a place’s physical characteristics, inside and outside.

The Annie Russell Theatre’s structure has both Romanesque Revival and Mediterranean Revival architectural styles. The building has a reinforced concrete foundation, stucco and stone walls, and clay and Spanish barrel tile on the roof. Some of the original walls were made of terracotta blocks.

Two-tone stucco was the choice for the surfaces of exterior walls. Florida Travertine stone made the decorative details and trim stunning! The auditorium’s side walls are broken up by lower flanking sections, which provide for side aisles, and by somewhat higher stairwell roofs.

Inside, there are three openings leading into the green and caramel auditorium. Patrons use the side aisles to arrive at their seats. The center aisle was eliminated during a 1977 renovation.

The side aisles are lined by arches “separated by piers and stone columns with composite capitals and applied wooden impost blocks.The piers have wood trim following the column architrave with a seashell ornament on the auditorium side and a single candelabra wrought iron lamp on the other. The same seashell motif is continued in the niches of the two Patrons’ Boxes located near the stage which are trimmed in stone.”

Annie Russell Theatre is described as being “a theatre dedicated to nurturing and crafting the next generation of theatre makers. [It] provides us all a unique opportunity to foster, shape and celebrate the theatrical talent of tomorrow.”



In 1864, Annie Russell was born in Liverpool, England to Joseph Russell and actress Jane Mount. Looking for a brighter future, the Russell family immigrated to Canada. Jane’s acting talent was passed down to Annie and her brother Tommy.

Early in her life her thespian talent became apparent to those around her. As a young child, Annie was enrolled at the Montreal Academy Music in Montreal, Canada. She excelled in this school, and at eight years old, she experienced her first stage appearance; acting alongside Rose Eytinge. When Annie was 12, Tommy got a role in a touring production that went to the West Indies. Annie came along to manage him.

Her big break came when she won an audition in New York City for the part of Esmerelda. It ran for two hundred shows at The Madison Square Theatre. In 1883, Annie became part of the New York Fifth Avenue Theatre Company, joining her mother and brother Tommy.

After a year, she married her first husband, playwright and stage manager Eugene Wiley Presbrey, and promptly became ill. She continued to win praise in various productions, perhaps burning the candle at both ends. The marriage didn’t take and they divorced in 1887.

She became seriously ill in 1890, and ran up large medical bills. The whole New York theatre community came out and raised 3,000 dollars for her medical bills. Everyone loved her. She recovered and went back to what she loved: the stage.

She continued to win praise in various productions, burning the candle at both ends again as she had trouble pacing herself, and knowing her limits. She went to London and acted in popular plays there.

In 1899, she once again became ill, and returned to America for a rest. She couldn’t stay away from the stage, but she slowed down. She went back to a more challenging schedule once again in 1902.

In 1903, she met her second husband, British actor Oswald Yorke, a keeper. This dynamic couple had a blast appearing in many plays together.

Annie retired in 1918 from a long stage career, settling in Winter Park, Florida. Her health could no longer allow her to continue in her strenuous acting life. Annie was disappointed about having to quit professional stage acting.

A friend in Winter Park had an idea to cheer Annie up, encouraging her to join the faculty of Rollins College, to help develop and pass on what she learned from her years on the stage to young, talented student thespians, and to improve the fledgling drama department. The other professors and college administration were thrilled to have her on board. Annie jumped right in, teaching and directing. She had found her joy once again!

Enthusiasm was so high that the college decided to build a stage theatre. It was designed by the German-born architect Richard Kiehnel, of Kiehnel and Elliott. In 1931, Rollins College broke ground on the site of their new dramatic arts theatre, and they named it after Annie Russell, who was very pleased indeed.

Annie even found herself on stage again! In 1932, at the age of 67, Annie was invited to star in the Rollins Drama Department’s first theatrical production, in their new theatre: Robert Browning’s’ In A Balcony Inspired.

Annie Russell then formed two theatre groups on the Rollins Campus. Annie made good use of her time; spending the next four years acting in and directing several stage productions.

Four years later, her health issues caught up with her once again, and she died in 1936. But her death apparently hasn’t stopped her from enjoying her interests in this world, despite being in spirit form.



People who love what they do in life sometimes don’t want to quit and move on to the other side. They want to continue their pursuits in spirit form. This is especially true of people who give their lives to the arts and the stage.

Elsinore Theatre, OR (The spirit of George Guthrie still keeps an eye on the living to ensure the quality of the performances, especially during rehearsals).

Stanley Theatre, NY (Spirits of theatre arts performers and the strongly connected cause interesting activity).

Pittsburgh Theatre, PA (An actor by the name of John Johns had worked hard on a part and looked forward to performing in the play on stage. He suddenly died of a heart attack at a banquet).

Annie Russell Theatre, FL (The spirit of Annie is still involved in theatre activities, doing what she can do in spirit form, no longer encumbered by an illness that plagued her on and off throughout her life. Apparently, she has spectral company. Spirits of five males apparently love the action here as well).



Paranormal investigators are convinced that the Annie Russell is a very active theatre, with the spirit of Annie and some male spirits who keep her company. Review the sources listed below to discover what hard evidence they have caught.

The Spirit of Annie Russell

As she was while alive, she is still the same sweet soul in the afterlife.

This spirit still tries to give encouragement, and even mothers young thespians.

One night in 1978, an exhausted young actress curled up on the theater’s green room sofa and crashed, being the only living person in the theatre. When she awoke, she found that a blanket had been tucked around her, and a chair that had been across the room had been moved to the sofa and placed in such a way as to prevent the actress from falling off.

After performing in plays, actors and actresses have felt encouraging pats on their backs.

Personal Appearances

Over the eras since 1936, many have seen and heard her in or around the outside of the theatre.

She likes to wear a floor-length vintage lavender gown, appearing as a solid life-like form.

Once she walked by a female thespian in an outside corridor of the theatre. The actress thought she was lost, and asked her if she could help. The spirit just looked at her kindly before disappearing.

On the same evening, a theater student was painting scenery when she looked up in the balcony and saw this same kind lady, wearing her long length lavender gown, watching her.

Another actress was practicing her part on stage. After she was finished she heard disembodied clapping from the balcony.

Spectral Heroine

She also looks after the people who work here.

One stagehand was up on a ladder trying to adjust a light.

He felt two distinct tugs on his pants from an unseen hand.

He ignored it, thinking that it wasn’t real. When he went up another rung, a hot wire touched him and he fell.

When a fellow stagehand saw him fall, he immediately called 911, but was told that they had already gotten a call. Paramedics arrived right after that.

Her Own Seat

She has a favorite balcony seat which is in the third row.The seat is often seen down, like someone was sitting on it.

She loves to watch rehearsals from this favorite seat in the balcony. She quietly gives her opinion.

Urban legend says that if she appears early in the morning between 12 and 1am on the Wednesday before a show opens, it will be a success.

If she doesn’t appear, it means that the show will flop, and something unfortunate will happen to the thespians involved.


There have been boatloads of interactions between the living and the spirit of Annie ever since she passed over.

Paranormal investigators have all been convinced that the Annie Russell Theatre is a very active place with the spirit of Annie and some male spirits who have some sort of connection with the theatre. The spirit of Annie has been friendly with investigators, speaking with them through EVPs.

Fox News and a crew of ghost hunters on the evening of October 12th, 2012 did an investigation of the theatre. They found the spirit of a musician or conductor in the orchestra pit. Four spirits of thespians or directors were found on stage. The spirit of Annie herself was found in the balcony.


A huge Yes Indeed! The Spirit of Annie is having a blast in her afterlife, enjoying the efforts of the living on stage. She interacts with them as she did while alive, just in unspoken ways. Five male spirits who stay here also love the theatre productions. No one knows yet who they are.


Russell College – Annie Russell Theatre
1000 Holt Avenue,
Winter Park, FL 32789

The Annie Russell Theatre is located at Rollins College; “on the northern one-third of the same city block where the Knowles Memorial Chapel (N.R. 1998) and the Chapel Garden cloister—which separates the two buildings—are found. The site is found in the northeastern sector of the campus about two blocks west of Lake Virginia.”


    October 31st, 1998
    October 31, 2012 – by Luke Woodling ’17MBA
    Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College Winter Park, Florida, 8/11/06
    Monday, November 25, 2013

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