Professor continues to bring her costume design craft to everyone


Gabrielle Caumon / Hilltop Views

Mancuso (left) supervising one of her student Regan Shawn’s designs for the Mary Moody Northen Theatre‘s production of “Luchadora!”

T’Cie Mancuso is the queen of costume design. Raised in Lake Charles, La., she discovered her passion thanks to her grandmother: the woman who raised her. 

“When I was a little girl, I didn’t know anything about costume design, but my grandmother taught me how to sew,” Mancuso said. “I had a sewing machine before I started school.”

She comes from an Italian family and describes her father as a gifted musician who played the trumpet. As he grew up, he became irresponsible, so Mancuso went to live with her grandmother at the age of three. Due to this situation, her grandmother was against future artists in the family. 

“Every time we asked to do something that was art related, she would say ‘you’re too old,’ ” Mancuso said. “Eventually she gave way (saying), ‘No matter how hard I tried to keep you away from this, this is what you’re meant to do. You have my blessing.’ ”

Now, her inspiration is her grandmother. Born in 1903, she was from a generation where women stayed at home; they were generally seen but not heard. Mancuso said her grandmother broke all those barriers.

“By today’s standards, she would just be like anybody else, you know. But back then, she had a mouth,” Mancuso said. “Watching her be in that role, made me be that way. So, I was raised by a strong woman. I am a strong woman.”

Mancuso possesses two degrees in costuming; one in Costume Design from Southwest Texas State University – now known as Texas State – and another in Costume Technology from the University of Texas. During her studies, she had to choose which degree to declare: Theater or Home Economics. She chose the theatre department because she wanted to learn about it. 

Sara Medina-Pape, a friend who worked as a costume and makeup professor for St. Edward’s University, was the one to recommend her for a teaching position there. Mancuso arrived at the university in 2001 and has remained a big part of the theater community for 22 years.

“T’Cie had just arrived when I was a freshman at St. Ed’s, so we found our footing together in many ways,” Gabriel Luna, former student of Mancuso’s and known for his role as Tommy in “The Last of Us,” said. “Her youth, enthusiasm and vibrancy was awesome to be around, and she matched our excitement for each play we worked on. She was,and still is, a bright light in the theater department.” 


Reunion on the hilltop between Mancuso and her former student Gabriel Luna, now an actor in a record-breaking HBOMax show. (Courtesy of Chelsea Purgahn)

A path toward teaching

Mancuso was introduced to teaching through her graduate school program at Texas State University, which required each student to teach a class. Her first time teaching, she was running on no food and no sleep because she was working on a show the day before. 

“On top of being nervous, I was tired,” Mancuso said. “I got up there and started; my hands were shaking because I hadn’t eaten. I had to sit down. The students got me something to eat, and I stood up and I told myself: ‘Well, if I can do this, I can do anything’.” 

Mancuso says she kind of fell into teaching. It’s after this experience that she discovered how much she enjoys it. 

“You can’t ask for anything better as a teacher than seeing the students start where they are, with basically nothing, and leave here as fully functioning artists,” Mancuso said. “You know you’ve done your job.”

Originally, Mancuso did not pursue teaching after graduation. She made her living by freelancing for different theatrical stages, such as The Vortex and ZACH Theatre. Over time, she decided she wanted to have a more permanent job, and it was then that she decided to join the St. Edward’s University community.

“I am so glad that T’Cie came here,” Cassidy Barber, one of her students, said. “She helped me realize that costume design is what I want to do with my life. I have learned a lot of very valuable skills from her. She has been a great mentor to me in every shape and form.”

Seeing the epiphany in her students’ eyes is the reason Mancuso is a teacher; and they’re uplifted by her enthusiasm and warmth. She has and will continue to leave her imprint on those who have met her throughout her career. 

“I cannot imagine St. Ed’s without T’Cie,” Barber said. “She is not allowed to retire until I graduate.”


Costume art for all sides of the industry 

When it comes to designing costumes, fantasy interests Mancuso the most. It’s one of the reasons she stayed connected to Mardi Gras, the huge annual tradition of her home state — because she enjoys making these kinds of creations.

“I don’t like to do temporary clothing, it’s not interesting or exciting to me,” Mancuso said. “My favorite thing to do is fantasy, because it’s not something that’s real. You can take off all those elements and rearrange them together in a way that speaks to you.” 

Between the almost 150 shows Mancuso has undertaken, the project she is the most proud of is the three-part “Cybernetic Opera,” where techno music is inserted into opera. This project had all kinds of extravagant characters, and because she prefers making headpieces and hats, she could let her creativity take over to design incredible pieces. 

She did the first two parts called “The Black Blood” and “Panoptikon.” Mancuso won an award in this show for Costume Design, among many other accolades she received during her career. 

“I remember the first time I got (an award) in Lake Charles. Some of my designs were on the front page of the paper,” Mancuso said. “It just felt good, you know? You’re working hard at your craft, and when somebody else recognizes it, it’s like: I must be doing something right.”

Sometimes, she wonders where life would have taken her if her grandmother had not restricted her curiosity for art when she was younger.  

“But if you dwell on that, then you’re concentrating on the loss and not on the success, and I can’t do that,” Mancuso said. “I love what I do so I have to look at it to say, for whatever reason this was my destiny.’”