Theatre Artists Branching Out–Brenda Robins, Monique Lund, Arwen MacDonell

by Lynn on August 11, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

More in the on-going series of Theatre Artists Branching Out during this time of isolation and no theatre. The spotlight for this post is on: Brenda Robins, Monique Lund and Arwen MacDonell.

Brenda Robins

Brenda Robins is a respected actress who has acted across the country at our most notable theatres. The pandemic put a stop to that.  But she also sews. In particular she makes pillows from vintage material. Some are filled with a synthetic material, some with feathers. She says that she keeps the completed pillows in a back bedroom in her east-end house she shares with actor-husband Patrick Galligan and their son Jack. She says the bedroom is now full of those pillows. Perhaps they are mating in the night. (I know for a fact that my books mate in the night, perhaps pillows do too. But I digress).

I try and make a point of buying the stuff that theatre people are making. I said to Brenda I wanted to buy one pillow…I have a few pillows I’ve received on my couch. One more is ok.

I chose an elegantly simple pillow in a wonderfully soft material with large, graceful deep-reddish-maroon leaves mixed with green fern leaves on a white background. It gives the sense of lushness without being busy. The back of the pillow is a very soft fabric (not velvet) in deep maroon. Brenda also put dark blue ‘puffs’ on each corner. The puffs match my couch perfectly. The whole pillow is substantially stuffed with synthetic material that has produced a pillow that is both firm and comfortable. Love it. All the designs are elegant, tasteful and calming in a lovely way.

Brenda does not have a presence on Facebook or Twitter but you can reach her for further information and purchase at:

Monique Lund

Monique Lund was playing in Hairspray in Hamilton, Ont. (she was compelling as Velma Von Tussle) when she got the idea of making earrings on the side. She saw some lovely ‘distressed’ leather and got the idea of fashioning earrings out of metal and leather. She creates three types of earrings: “The Charlotte Collection” are small, delicate earrings named after her daughter Charlotte; medium sized earrings for the ‘conservative’ tastes; and bigger versions for those who are bold.

I don’t wear earrings (Monique’s are for pierced ears) so I did not buy any, but I certainly can appreciate the beauty and artistry of Monique Lund’s creations.  The combination of the delicate metal and the hint of leather creates the most arresting designs that never overpower but always enhance ‘the look.’ Lund hopes to rent a space in Stratford (where she lives) with natural light in which she can work, and from which she can also sell her earrings. Her husband playwright/actor Mark Weatherley and their daughter Charlotte also hope she finds another space in which to work because they want their dining room table back.

Arwen MacDonell

Arwen MacDonell was a respected stage manager in the theatre for more than 20 years. Then in 2018 she made a hard decision to shift careers, took the Baking and Pastry Arts Program at George Brown College and graduated a year later with honours. Backstage Bakeshop was born.

The same meticulous care that Arwen invested in stage management is now invested into her baking. Her gallery of baked goods is mouth-watering.

For my first time I ordered:

A Wee Loaf (which is a compressed baguette and comes with this ‘warning’ “dare you not to eat it all in one sitting”).

A Demi-Baguette (not one of those long ones—this is shorter)

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Biscotti (cranberry, almond)

And I also got a Chocolate Brioche Bun thrown in.

Ordering and paying on line is easy. I arranged to pick up the order at Arwen’s house. (She also delivers). A time and day were set for the pick-up.

When I arrived everything was ready in a pristine paper shopping bag with the baked goods neatly packed inside. We chatted a bit on her porch (as with most people in the theatre I’d never met her formally but we knew of each other.)

I could tell from the warmth of the bag that the Demi-Baguette was freshly out of the oven and still warm. The fragrance of the bread wafted up and that intoxicating euphoria of freshly baked bread hit me. I couldn’t help myself. I tore off the top of the crusty bread and bit into it. There was that wonderful sound of the crunch of the crust that gave over to the soft texture inside the baguette. Substantial, delicate, delicious.  

When I got home I laid out my bounty on the table. I did not eat the whole Wee Loaf in one sitting but savored it over a few days. Again, the crust was crunchy and the “crumb” was soft, chewy and wonderful. The Demi-Baguette and Wee Loaf are terrific toasted.

The Chocolate Brioche Bun has ripples of chocolate inside it. The dough is sweet, dense and fills the mouth along with drool.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies are like a chocolate chip cookie, and then some. Arwen adds a few flakes of Maldon salt to the top-centre of the cookie. The cookie is crispy without being hard and when you bite so easily into one of the many chocolate chunks, you are transported to another level. And when you think it can’t get better, there are the few flakes of Maldon salt. You add salt to a batter to balance the sweetness. In this case tasting the sudden intensity of those flakes of Maldon Salt on the top of the cookie melds with the intensity of the chocolate for one perfect eye-popping experience.

Cranberry-Almond Biscotti. Biscotti are tricky. There are jaw-breakers they are so hard. There are those that crumble all over the place they are so delicate. Arwen’s Biscotti are a beautiful in-between. They are substantial but easily crunchy. They are crumbly in the mouth but still in tact as you hold the other end of one. The cranberries were chewy, almost fresh, but I know they were dried. The almonds crunched and tasted fresh, or perhaps they were freshly roasted.  

I was asked by somebody if I dunked—either a cookie or biscotti in tea, coffee, milk etc.  I did not. The care and meticulousness that Arwen puts into her baking requires that you taste everything purely. That means that when you plan on eating any of these goods you sit at a table with the goods on a plate and concentrate only on the eating—you don’t scarf any of it down while watching TV or talking on the phone or taking pictures of it for Instagram all while you are eating it.

You consider what you are eating. You look at it on the plate, or in your hand. You consider each bite and how it fills the mouth and how the many tastes reveal themselves, gradually and with a punch. You don’t take another bite until the mouthful you are eating is properly chewed, considered, appreciated and swallowed. Pause. Then take the next bite.  

There are no crumbs at the end of eating the bread, the buns or the cookies, because you won’t want to waste one particle of these wonderful baked goods.  

Arwen has a round beige sticker on every package with her black logo of “backstage bakeshop” on it. The logo is of a rolling pin that is horizontal on the sticker with the name of the company across it. Sticking vertically out of the middle of the rolling pin is a spatula, a whisk and a wooden spoon. Below that is the name of the item (Biscotti etc.) and below that are the ingredients, none of which is unpronounceable or made in a chemical lab. It’s all natural. The last ingredient of the Wee Loaf is “love.” (I love that—that ingredient should be added to all the stickers).

Some of the cookies are in cellophane bags that are neatly sealed but are easy to open when your pull the top gently apart. There is no uneven tearing either—it all comes unsealed with a gentle tug. The Biscotti are in a cellophane bag that is tied up in a perfect bow with red and white chord. I nearly got weepy when I saw that—the care that Arwen takes in baking, wrapping and presenting the stuff is quietly dazzling.

And it’s delicious.

And I’ll order more as soon as I finish what I ordered. And so should you.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 fina macDonell August 13, 2020 at 4:29 pm

I always enjoy your radio “column” whether I agree with you or not . . . but that keeps it interesting, right? And now, I have more reasons to applaud your dedication to the Toronto Theatre community. Great that you are showcasing some of the off stage talents and passions of players and crew. Thank you so much for that.
And really, even if I were not Arwen’s mother, I would say the same.


2 Lauren Snell August 13, 2020 at 9:13 pm

I wish I lived in Toronto just so I could eat Arwen’s baking (and see you, Fina!).
I am going to make a Toronto trip in the fall (if all is well – I will pre-order some deliciousness from Arwen before I come).
Lynn – I am so happy you have mentioned some theatre people who have moved on to other creative endeavors. You are a mensch. xo L


3 Nancy Hawkins August 13, 2020 at 6:40 pm

Purchased some of Arwens magical baking last Christmas. Cheese buttons, ginger cookies and an amazing spice cake………………..yum all around. Highly recommend those items as well. I am a theatre costumer and have worked with Arwen as well. And yes, she does put the same care into her baking as she does into her fabulous baked goods. I will be looking into her cinnamon buns in the near future!


4 Sam Nicholds August 14, 2020 at 9:01 pm

I purchased a custom birthday cake for my mom from Arwen. It was stunning to look at and delicious to eat! I highly recommend! (Also had the chocolate cookies with the salt – YUM! – and the cheese buttons -mmmmmmm!