I'm telling you, there has always been an enormous amount of talent in Washington. I just don't understand why more people don't know about it," Karen Combs said at the reception Friday following The Washington Theatre Group's Sampler Showcase.

Washington Theatre Group, a new venture, is in the business of making local talents known. Under the direction of Jamie Brown, Washington Theatre Group molds young performers into marketable entertainment -- acts that can be booked for fund-raisers, parties, conventions and the like and can earn the young hopefuls experience and money at the same time.

The showcase, at the Pepco Building Auditorium downtown, was Washington Theatre Group's open house, a shopper's market in which the entertainers strutted their best stuff and the audience carefully took notes. The performers seemed to know that out in the audience somewhere was a good "gig" and maybe, just maybe, the first big contract. . . .

Combs, a counselor at the University of the District of Columbia, was scouting early for entertainment for UDC's Black History Month. At the end of the two-hour program she found what she was looking for and was ready to make a deal for "Livin the Legacy," Howard University's Children's Theater's inspirational musical drama.

The showcase was a real variety show, with 15 acts, one right after another and each as vastly different as Funkadelic is from the Metropolitan Opera.

Ester Pan, of the Chinese Folk Dancing Troupe of Greater Washington, floated long strips of gold fabric in the air in her "Ribbon Dance." Operatic soprano Annette Pierson Poulard sang Muhammad Ali's theme song, "The Greatest."

"Reminiscence," a teen singing group specializing in '50 and '60s nostalgia, be-bopped the hits of the Temptations and Gladys Knight and The Pips. Dawn Robinson, 15, donned a top hat for Broadway's "New York, New York." Pro Femina Theater presented glimpses from the hilarious show "An I For A You" and Wo'se Dance Theater presented an elaborate African celebration dance. Linda Wharton of the Six O'Clock Company, a local theater group, directed the show and polished the acts, finishing them off with professional sparkle.

Master of ceremonies Stanley Jei Robinson, who added humorous, original touches to his introductions, was auditioning as much as any of the acts onstage. As it turned out, Robinson later gave a splendid recitation from Richard Wright's "Nigger." Robinson is a graduate student at Howard's School of Communications and is available for bookings as a host.

After one year in business, the Washington Theatre Group now manages the budding careers and burgeoning affairs of at least 30 local acts -- all loaded with talent and ideas and bubbling over with hopes and dreams. These are the kinds of acts you'd see on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour if it were still around. Thank goodness Washington Theatre Group is picking up the slack.