Jacqui O'Hanlon received the award as part of the Queen's 2022 New Year's Honours list for her services to the Arts.

As Director of Learning and National Partnerships, Jacqui leads an RSC team that helps thousands of young people and their teachers across the country experience the power of Shakespeare’s language in their schools every year.

Speaking about her MBE, Jacqui said: “Arts learning has been such an important part of my life. As a child, a teacher introducing drama in my school completely changed the trajectory of my life and who I thought I could be. The MBE is a recognition of the importance of the work and the brilliance of the work that's undertaken by the team at the RSC and all of our freelance colleagues, but also organisations across the country.

“Arts learning really does matter. It unlocks potential that otherwise we don't know we've got. The award is a great recognition of that.”

Jacqui O'Hanlon headshot, outside smiling
Director of Learning and National Partnerships, Jacqui O'Hanlon.

Jacqui trained as an actor and started her career performing in theatres as well as touring adaptations of Shakespeare’s work to schools. As an actor at the National Theatre, she began to lead some of their education work with young people and teachers, then became Artist in Residence for a Birmingham-based project, visiting primary and secondary schools in deprived areas of the city and using drama to raise self-esteem.

She came to the RSC as a freelancer, working closely with primary schools in Stratford-upon-Avon through the Theatrelink scheme. A series of roles saw Jacqui creating on-stage work for young people and managing our professional development work before becoming Director of Learning in 2008.

Unlocking potential through Shakespeare

Jacqui and her team use Shakespeare to help unlock potential in young people and adults, level the playing field and offer ways to challenge and explore Shakespeare’s work and what it means to our lives and world today.  

The department work reaches approximately 1,000 schools a year across the UK and internationally as well as individual teachers, young people and adults. Work includes:  

  • Our Shakespeare Learning Zone and regular free broadcasts of the RSC's work to schools across the UK
  • Next Generation talent development – opportunities in acting, directing or working backstage for people who otherwise wouldn’t consider a career in theatre
  • Long term partnerships with over 200 schools and 12 theatre partners across England
  • Playmaking – annual events celebrating the talent of young people from all across the country.
  • Shakespeare Nation – a programme of work with adults to co-create productions of Shakespeare’s plays
  • Research: we became an Independent research organisation (IRO) in 2021 and through a major grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation are researching the impact of theatre-based approaches to Shakespeare‘s work on learning outcomes for children and young people.

Speaking about Jacqui's MBE, Acting Artistic Director Erica Whyman said: “Jacqui’s tireless and pioneering commitment to young people, their teachers and communities has transformed lives across the UK. We are also indebted to her leadership in the field of cultural learning, which has never been more needed than during the pandemic.”