Ken began his theatrical career in Hamilton, with singing lessons from John Andrews. He subsequently trained with Hubert Milverton-Carta (England) and at age 17 won the Leonard Delany Scholarship. Malcolm Brown (Hanover) and Gordon Cole (Auckland NZ) were major influences in his early career & he sang on several occasions with the New Zealand Opera Company.
He has won several prestigious vocal competitions and was sufficiently highly regarded, catching the eye of a visiting director Molly Donald who cast him in several shows for the Hamilton Amateur Operatic Society. He has appeared in over 50 principal roles in musical theatre, Gilbert & Sullivan, opera and straight dramatic plays. After playing the role of “ Daddy Warbucks” in the smash hit musical “Annie” in His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland he received numerous requests to repeat the role and has completed hundreds of performances playing “Warbucks” in several cities throughout New Zealand. A Royal Command performer he sang with his wife Doreen for HRH Princess Alexandra and Hon. Angus Ogilvie, at the Grand Ball presented in their honour in the Auckland Town Hall.
He has also been cast in many straight dramatic roles, his favourite being Arthur Millers “Death of a Salesman” in which he played the title role of Frank. He has also played several Shakespearean roles in Julius Caesar, King Lear and Macbeth.
His television appearances include Mortimer’s Patch, Taggart, The Adventurer, Stars on Sunday, 479, together with several advertisements and documentaries. He also appeared in the full length feature film “The Brotherhood of the Rose” with well known American movie star Robert Mitchum.
Ken is also a qualified stage technician, and past President of the NZ Backstage Technicians Association. His expertise in staging, flying, rigging and stage management has seen him work in association with many extremely well known international directors including prominent English writer and director Jeremy Croft on the NZ tour of “ Allo Allo”, Joe Layton (America) on “Aloha”, Tom Guerra (America) on “Evita”, Michael Beauchamp (England) on “La Boheme” his close friend Garry Ginivan (Australia) on “The Wonderful World of Mr Men” and for several internationally recognised companies including Sadlers Wells Ballet, London, The Bolshoi Ballet, Russia, NZ Ballet, Shanghai Ballet, China.
His company Donnell Theatre Productions was the first to introduce full scale professional children’s musicals to NZ’s children and young people, touring productions of Noddy Goes to Toyland, Puff the Magic Dragon, Winnie the Pooh and Bananas in Pyjamas throughout NZ.
He and his wife Doreen Donnell, founded ACTA in 1998 and were the head tutors of the drama and singing departments. Their daughter Janine Donnell (currently the Artistic Director of ACTA) was originally the head tutor of the dance department. ACTA was based on an Australian idea for training children and young people in all three art forms required for musical theatre. This was the first Academy in New Zealand of its kind teaching acting, singing and dance in one curriculum, enabling students to gain experience in performance as well as singing competitions, and examinations in music theatre, singing, and speech and drama with Trinity College, London.