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Dorchester’s Joseph Goncalves beats the odds on and off stage

Lauren Magnuson | 9/5/2012, 7:39 a.m.
Joseph Goncalves, 20, student at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, staged two plays at the Strand...
Joseph Goncalves, 20, student at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, staged two plays at the Strand Theater. Lauren Magnuson

Joseph Goncalves has come a long way from his roots in theater. Years after he got his start in eighth grade as a background character in “Guys and Dolls,” the Dorchester native recently staged a play that he wrote, directed, and produced.

“It was my dream,” said Goncalves, 20, about his production, “Through Struggle, I fought. I conquered,” which went up at Boston’s Strand Theater on July 13. The play centers on a young, aspiring writer growing up with a single mother, and was inspired by his own life.

 “I feel like all writing should be from experience. You have to have some connection to [it],” says Goncalves, a rising junior studying English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

This was Goncalves’ second full-length production. He staged his first play, “No Strength to Cry,” last summer at the Strand on a much smaller scale.  In order to cover the increased budget to hold the performance in the main theater, Goncalves says he raised over $1,000 in donations and paid additional costs out of his own pocket from a summer job.

“It’s not a hobby, it’s my life,” said Goncalves. “It’s something I live and breathe every day.”

Goncalves’ mother, Tanya Cabral, said that she’s always been impressed by his motivation and leadership.

 “I’ve never seen him throw in the towel, he is constantly trying hard,” said Cabral, who raised Joseph and his older brother, Luis, as a single mother since they were small.

“He’s very independent, “ Cabral said. “He knows what he wants and there’s no stopping him.”

Goncalves is taking that spirit into his next project, a web series that he’s writing and producing with a cast member of his most recent production. The storyline follows four housemates grappling with homosexuality and identity.

“We’re exploring things that people don’t really see [on TV], said Goncalves. “We hope to inspire people with this. That’s our main goal.”

The web series, which he plans to submit to the Boston Film Festival, will be the first project for what he and his partner, Jasmine Newsome, hope to eventually be their own production company.

One of the people that Goncalves cites as a major influence in his growth as an actor and writer is Laurie DeMarco, his theater teacher at Boston’s Josiah Quincy Upper School.

 “She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Goncalves said.

“I’m so proud of him,” says DeMarco, who added that she watched Goncalves find confidence through his theater participation.

“He went from being super shy and not being able to say a word onstage to putting on his own show in his senior year,” DeMarco said.

DeMarco said that her students are given an advantage by having theater classes as a regular part of the curriculum.

“The amount of class hours that we have in the arts is really high compared to a lot of schools out there,” DeMarco said. “In my class [Joseph] flourished in being able to express himself.”

Goncalves said that he also found inspiration in his mother, who said she is working a second job to support her sons through college.

“Seeing how strong she is after all she’s been through leaves hope for me to stay strong,” Goncalves said.

Goncalves said that while he would like to become an English teacher as a backup to theater, he’s anxious to graduate college so that he can pursue a professional acting career.

“LA has always been a dream of mine,” said Goncalves, adding that his ideal gig would be to appear on a television series.

Cabral says she’s confident in her son’s future, especially since he has a clear vision.

“I’ve learned so much from raising [Joseph and his brother] and now that they’re adults, I’m still learning,” she said. “He has a lot to offer the younger generation coming in.”