Stephen attended Auckland and Victoria Universities, majoring in English and Maori Studies. He worked as a research assistant at the Maori Studies Department, Victoria University from 1979 – 1980; and as a translator of Maori documents at the National Archives, Wellington, in 1984.
In 1982 Stephen, with the help of friend Felicity Day, formed the Maori-Pacific Island theatre group Taotahi, which performed shows around the Wellington region until 1984. Productions included Le Matau, or The Hook, co-written with Samson Samasoni, the first stage play to explore the Pacific Island experience in New Zealand.
In 1987 the Mercury Theatre, Auckland, produced Ladies Night. A comedy sensation, the play has been performed continuously ever since throughout the world. In 2001 the French version won the prestigious Moliere Award for Stage Comedy of the Year. It was the first of a succession of stage comedies which included Ladies Night 2: Raging On, Legless, Big Bickies and The Sex Fiend (co-written with Danny Mulheron) which played return seasons around New Zealand and continues to be a favourite with Am Dram companies. Also Braindead the Musical, a stage adaptation of the eponymous feature film, which was performed in Auckland and Wellington in 1995.
In 1992 the Play Caramel Cream was produced at the Depot Theatre in Wellington. A tense three hander, Caramel Cream opens with two young crims Mitch and Pete breaking into a building where social worker Clare is working late. Reviewing it in the New Zealand Listener, Denis Welch wrote: “It proves that (Sinclair) not only has a gift for comedy, but also can tackle complex moral issues with uncompromising toughness.”
In 1999 Stephen directed and co-wrote Blowing It with actor Stephen Papps. A one man comedy drama about an undercover cop, the play was performed throughout Australasia and in 2003 toured Europe, garnering 5 star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that year.
In 2002 his historical drama The Bellbird, which was produced as a main bill for the Auckland Theatre Company in 2002, and was published by Reed in 2004. Reviewing it in the NZ Herald, Peter Calder called it “a play of heart and soul and a valuable addition to our literature.” And in 2004 the ATC premiered The Bach, a success they repeated in 2005. The Bach continued to prove its appeal to New Zealand audiences with productions in the other main centres. Both The Bellbird and The Bach are prescribed texts for Drama Studies in New Zealand secondary schools.
In 2006 the Circa Theatre, Wellington, produced his surrealist thriller Drawer of Knives. Then in 2011 and again in 2013 his show Intimacies was performed in Auckland – an evening of two thematically linked one act plays set in the near future, exploring the impact of the new technologies on our lives.
In 2015 Success, a comedy drama about the tangled relationships of three stand-up comedians, premiered at Bats Theatre in Wellington. 2017 saw the premiere of his post-apocalyptic parable Remain In Light in Auckland; also the comedy musical Love Me Tinder – a satire on the online dating phenomenon and the perennial horrors of first dates!
Stephen has had a long screenwriting partnership with Academy Award winners Peter Jackson and Frances Walsh, notably on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Earlier collaborations with Peter and Fran include the feature film Meet the Feebles, and in 1991, Braindead, which won Best Screenplay at the 1993 New Zealand Film and Television Awards. More recently he has been commissioned by Peter and Fran to write a screenplay for an animated feature film based on one of his children’s stories.
Stephen has written and directed several short films, including Ride, which has screened at numerous international festivals. His feature debut Russian Snark, also starring Stephen Papps alongside Elena Stejko, premiered at the 2010 NZ Film Festival in Auckland. It went on to be nominated for 6 NZ Film Awards, including Best Director, and won the Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2011 it won Best International Film at the Garden State Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize at the Brussels Independent Film Festival.
Stephen has written the novels Thief of Colours, published in 1995, and Dread in July 2000. His collection of poetry, The Dwarf and the Stripper, appeared in 2003. Poems from the collection have been selected for two anthologies: ‘Spirit Abroad: a Second Selection of Spiritual New Zealand Verse’ and ‘121 New Zealand Poems’, selected by Bill Manhire. He is currently writing a novel set in late Roman Britain.
Stephen has three children – Madison, Elijah and Louis – and lives in Auckland.