IT'S HARD enough being the director-choreographer of a small dance company, but an unaffiliated choreographer has the hardest time of all.

How do you make a name for yourself, secure commissions, win funding? Having your work seen in optimal condition is one way, and that's why the annual Choreographers' Showcase has proven such a worthwhile enterprise.

Sponsored by the Prince George's County Arts Division of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the competition, now in its fifth year, offers modern dance choreographers from this area the chance to audition their work before a distinguished panel of adjudicators. This year's judges -- Ulysses Dove, Kathryn Posin and Bruce King -- evaluated 35 different entries, and selected eight as winners. They'll be performed Friday night at the Publick Playhouse.

The choreographers represented on this special program range from veteran artists to relative newcomers, and their works constitute a real stylistic stew. All but two of these dances involve groups of performers rather than solos or duets.

Mim Rosen's "Looking Back," set to a musical collage of voices and Robert Schumann's "Kinderscenen" is a rueful study of childhood memories. An excerpt from Sharon Wyrrick's "Infinite Passions" features two women doing unspeakable things to flowers. The subject of Marilyn Byars' "Gold," performed by a bunch of exuberant teen-agers, is coal mining; Alvin Mayes' "Onyx" speaks of urban estrangement. Also included on the bill: Buffy Price's sextet "White Heat," Kathy Harty Gray's grim "Joys and Sorrows," Robin Williams' "Procession," and "Ghosts," a collaboration between Anne Bassen and Chris Dohse.CHOREOGRAPHERS' SHOWCASE -- 8 p.m. Friday, Publick Playhouse, 5445 Landover Road, Hyattsville. Tickets $8, $6. Call 277-1710.